Trouble was unforeseen for Benfica yesterday. The Liga leaders had taken 25 points from a possible 27 and won five games on the bounce, with the last three of them ending 5-1, 4-0 and 4-1. To their Estadio da Luz came a Gil Vicente side that had scored in just two of their previous seven outings and were chasing a first victory in five attempts.
Yet with only 18 minutes remaining, the scoreboard read 1-1. But just as the Benfica fans began to fret, Rodrigo came to their rescue, firing them ahead before Pablo Aimar sealed a 3-1 success. The result kept Jorge Jesus’s team two points above Porto, who beat Vitoria Guimaraes by the same score.
“It was another very important victory from a difficult game,” reflected Rodrigo, the Brazil-born striker who thrived for Spain in last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup. “Gil Vicente came with the clear intention of defending the result. They marked well, but we deserve the plaudits. We did an excellent job and the victory was deserved.”
Porto’s victory in Round 16 of 30 ensured they, like Benfica, are still unbeaten in the league this season. Rodrigo nevertheless stressed that As Águias are concentrating on their own tasks rather than concerning themselves with how Os Dragões get on.
“We’re not worried about any of our rivals,” said the 20-year-old striker. “We’re only thinking about our own work. We must continue like this so that we can fulfil our goals.
“There’s great unity within the dressing room, the atmosphere is very good. We all have a lot of desire to help the team realise their ambitions.”
Rodrigo, who spent time on loan at Bolton Wanderers in 2010/11, arrived in Lisbon from Real Madrid last summer. With competition for places in the Benfica attack from Oscar Cardozo, Rodrigo Mora and Javier Saviola, he initially struggled for playing time, but since breaking into Jesus’s starting XI, the Rio de Janeiro native has excelled.
As well as fighting for the Liga title, Benfica are chasing a fourth successive Taca da Liga crown and will play Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Champions League’s last 32 – a stage they reached by topping Group C ahead of Basel and Manchester United.