Two second half goals by Nacer Chadli cancelled out Benfica’s first half strike but a last minute penalty denied Tottenham a deserved win as they salvaged some pride after the disappointments of recent weeks.
Benfica 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Scorers: Garay, Lima (pen) Chadli (2)
Team: Friedel; Naughton, Fryers, Sandro, Rose; Lennon, Bentaleb, Chadli, Sigurdsson, Townsend (Eriksen); Soldado (Kane) Subs: (unused) Archer, Ball, Ogilvie, Veljkovic, Winks
Tottenham gave a spirited performance to push Benfica to the final minute. Having gone behind after 33 minutes, Nacer Chadli scored twice in a minute to reduce the aggregate deficit to a single goal with 12 minutes to play. In those final minutes Spurs so nearly scored the vital third goal but in the end had to settle for a draw having conceded a penalty with the last kick of the game.
With limited options available to him, Tim Sherwood selected the strongest possible team with the exception of Christian Eriksen who was on the substitutes bench with five of the young players. Aaron Lennon was named captain of a team which was composed mostly of the squad players who have not held down a regular first team place this season. Sandro and Zeki Fryers were a makeshift partnership in central defence with Roberto Soldado playing as a lone striker in a 3-2-3-1 formation. Of the subs, only Eriksen and Harry Kane have first team experience. For Connor Oglivie, Dominic Ball and Harry Winks, it was their first experience of being named as a first team substitute while Jordan Archer and Milos Veljkovic have yet to make an appearance for the first team.
After an encouraging display by Spurs for the first half an hour, when they had three half-chances, Benfica did what they had done in the 1st leg and scored with their first meaningful attack. Spurs played with a disciplined control in which they worked hard to stop Benfica once they entered the Spurs half. Benfica looked to play the long ball forward and used their pace and movement to trouble Spurs and put them under immediate pressure.
Tottenham stood up well to the test and had their encouraging moments when a free-kick from Gylfi Sigurdaason hit the wall and went for a corner. The goalkeeper then punched the cross clear. After 14 minutes, a cross was flicked on and fell to Soldado at the back post but with two players waiting, he hit it into the side-netting.
After 25 minutes poor defending by the home side saw the ball fall to Soldado in front of goal but his shot was weak and blocked for a corner. Chadli got his head to the cross from the corner but put it beyond the back post.
On 33 minutes, from a corner, the ball bounced off Lennon wide on the right and broke for Benfica to deliver a cross for central defender, Garay, to head them into the lead. It was disappointing for Spurs after so much hard work but they didn’t allow it to get to them.The second half continued in the same vein with Spurs working hard but Benfica having slightly more control in their passing and link up play. It seemed as if it was a matter of damage limitation for Spurs with Benfica looking to ease their way into the quarter-finals. Then Tottenham started to get forward themselves with greater purpose – a cross from Chadli was just out of the reach of Sigurdsson in the 55th minute and 3 minutes later, Bentaleb fed Townsend on the left. He beat two men and the low shot from the edge of the area was deflected past the post for a corner.
Sandro got back to put in a good tackle as Benfica broke quickly. With 15 minutes to play Eriksen and Kane replaced Townsend and Soldado. Two minutes later the game suddenly changed as Chadli shot from the edge of the area to bring the game level. A minute later Lennon’s cross from the right was headed back by Kane to Chadli who hooked the ball into the roof of the net.
Spurs, from looking to keep the score respectable, were now seeking a goal to bring the aggregate scores level and it so nearly came. Benfica were rattled. In the 81st minute Lennon crossed towards Sigurdsson but he couldn’t get to it and a defender fortuitously headed the ball it into the hands of the goalkeeper. As Spurs pushed Benfica back looking for a breakthrough, the home side got away in the 85th minute and crossed but Friedel held the shot.
In the final minutes Kane was bundled over as he broke into the box but the officials ignored claims for a penalty. Three minutes later in the 90th minute, a cross by Chadli to the back post was met by Sigurdsson but the goalkeeper held his header. In the 92nd minute, Eriksen fed Chadli who crossed and Kane’s header was saved by the goalkeeper. Spurs had their chances but were hit by a sucker-punch as Benfica broke and Sandro committed a foul enabling Benfica to draw level on the night with Lima’s penalty.
The Tottenham players deserved credit for their willingness to fight and battle. With an under-strength side they played with desire and in the end were unfortunate not to win and could so easily have had that third goal to take the game to extra time. Spurs salvaged some pride from that display which hopefully will rub off on some of the players who were absent tonight.