Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday Football Feature - The best game from midweek that you may not have seen

PSV Eindhoven 2-2 Benfica
UEFA Europa League
Thursday 14 April 2011

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PSV went into this match hoping to reverse the pattern of Portuguese dominance which has characterised this year's Europa League competition. With Benfica leading 4-1 on aggregate following an extremely one-sided first leg, the pressure was all on the hosts to overturn the deficit against the current Primeira Liga leaders. PSV didn't make it easy for themselves, however, with a couple of defensive errors almost letting in the visitors early on. Marcelo was unable to cope with the footwork of classy Benfica forward Oscar Cardozo, who crossed for Argentine Nicolás Gaitán to fire over from close range, having lost his marker Stanislav Manolev.

Next an extremely sloppy pass from Marcelo across his own box was intercepted by the alert and experienced Javier Saviola, but his initial touch was too heavy, and in the end his poked effort was easily saved by the onrushing Andreas Isaksson. PSV then moved into their stride, winning the ball in midfield before setting pacy winger Jeremain Lens free down the right-hand side. His inch-perfect cross was smashed home by Hungarian attacking midfielder Balázs Dzsudzsák to begin the process of erasing the visitors' 4-1 aggregate advantage.

PSV proceeded to put the tie firmly in the balance, Jeremain Lens set clean through after the persistence of midfielder Otman Bakkal won the ball in midfield, sending it through the gap in the Benfica defence. His initial effort was well-saved but the rebound fell immediately to Lens, who chipped the ball neatly into the bottom left-hand corner to the delight of manager Fred Rutten. With PSV 2-0 up on the night after just 25 minutes Benfica took their turn at defensive sloppiness, allowing Dzsudzsák through on goal, but once again 'keeper Roberto stood up strong and palmed the shot away.

Yet what PSV needed the most - to go in at the interval still in the tie - was denied them in the final moments of first half stoppage time, Luisao inventively firing into the top corner of the net after Isaksson had flapped at Benfica's cross from the right and failed to gather the rebound. Benfica then won a penalty in the 62nd minute after a piercing run into the box by César Peixoto was abruptly ended by Marcelo, whose gravely mistimed challenge felled the Benfica winger and completed a poor display at the heart of the PSV defence. Cardozo stepped up confidently, shooting down the middle well clear of Isaksson's dive to settle the tie, and end any hope PSV may have had just before Luisao's strike.

The result leaves the Europa League a distinctly Portuguese, if not Iberian, affair, with Braga, Villarreal, Benfica and Porto contesting the semi-final. Next up for Benfica is Braga, narrow victors against Dinamo Kiev on away goals, whilst Porto face Villarreal, guaranteeing an all-Portuguese final in Dublin on 18 May.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Pics United

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