Cardozo inspires Benfica to win over Spartak
Champions League Group G, Estádio da Luz – Benfica 2 (Cardozo 55, 69) Spartak Moscow 0
Substitute Oscar Cardozo scored twice and missed a penalty as Benfica beat 10-man Spartak Moscow 2-0 in Group G of the Champions League in Lisbon.
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov should have put the visiting side ahead in the first half before Lima shot narrowly wide.
Rodrigo was replaced at half-time as Jorge Jesus introduced Cardozo and within 10 minutes the Paraguayan had had a goal ruled out for offside and found the back of the net with a well-taken header.
The super-sub then hit the bar with a looping header at the back post, converted an acrobatic volley and missed a penalty as the hosts leapfrogged their opponents into third place of Group G.
In a first half dominated by the home side, chances were few and far between.
With Benfica on the verge of exiting the competition, should they have lost and Celtic avoid defeat, the home crowd were keen to get behind their side and urge them on to finding the first goal.
It was indeed the hosts that had the first half-chance of the night as the ever-lively Eduardo Salvio crossed for Lima at the back post. The Benfica frontman nodded the ball back across the face of the goal towards Ezequiel Garay who was lurking with intent. Juan Insaurralde was quick to read the danger and cleared away from the six yard box.
They did have a glorious chance to take the lead, however, when former Everton striker Bilyaletdinov went through on goal. He was found by Dimitri Kombarov and was sent through one-on-one. The Russian striker’s first touch was immaculate but was unable to nudge the ball past the onrushing Artur in the Benfica goal.
The best chance of the first half came just moments later. Lorenzo Melgarejo exploited space down the left flank and expertly clipped the ball into the feet of Lima. The striker, who scored at home for the first time this season at the weekend, swivelled to fire at goal.
Artem Rebrov anticipated the shot and dived to his left, stopping smartly but parried the ball into the path of Salvio. The keeper was up in a flash to cover his front post as Salvio fizzed a shot goalwards. The winger really should have showed more composure to tap into the net but instead put his foot through the ball and sent it agonisingly wide.
As the two teams emerged for the second half, Cardozo was introduced in place of Rodrigo as Benfica coach Jesus searched for a little more creativity up front.
Despite that, Spartak should have nudged ahead through Bilyaletdinov who was able to capitalise on Jardel’s poor clearance to go through on goal. The striker was again wasteful as his effort was sent straight into the midriff of Artur.
Less than a minute later Cardozo had the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled out for offside. Replays suggest that Insaurralde was playing the Paraguayan on but it was soon forgotten as the big man put his side ahead.
Melgarejo and Ola John combined well on the left with the latter crossing to the far post where Cardozo rose highest to expertly head downwards and beyond the reach of the Spartak custodian.
He then nodded onto the bar from a tight angle before grabbing a well-taken second – acrobatically volleying into the far corner from 10 yards.
Nicolas Pareja then got the wrong side of the super substitute and sent him tumbling in the box. The Spartak defender was shown a straight red, despite already being booked, but was given a slight reprieve when Rebrov managed to push Cardozo’s penalty onto the bar, denying him of a hat-trick.
Jano Ananidze went close for Spartak in the dying moments with a brilliant curling effort but, in fairness, the hosts were the better team from start to finish and deserved all three points.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Oscar Cardozo – Benfica: Could it have been anybody else? The substitute changed the game with a quite outstanding second-half performance. He probably should have had five in the end, but ensured his side a victory with two well-taken goals.