Benfica take slender edge over Braga
Benfica will take a slight advantage into the second leg of their all-Portuguese UEFA Europa League semi-final following a deserved victory over Braga at the Estadio da Luz.
The hosts dominated for long periods, but victory was only secured by a thumping Oscar Cardozo free-kick on the hour mark. Only nine minutes earlier Benfica had finally been rewarded for a dominant first half when Jardel poked them ahead, but in between Braga claimed a valuable away goal when Vandinho glanced in a Hugo Viana free-kick.
It could prove an important goal from the veteran Brazilian, although he will miss the second leg after picking up a first-half caution. Benfica will, however, also be without their key playmaker Pablo Aimar after he was cautioned for the foul that led to Vandinho's goal.
The nerves of the first-ever all-Portuguese European semi-final was evident from the kick-off when Braga immediately sold themselves into danger before Paulao cleared the danger with a hacked clearance over his own crossbar. The visitors would spend the majority of the half living on their nerves, although they came close to a second-minute opener when Lima's long-range effort flew just wide past a sprawling Roberto.
Benfica had the ball in the net soon after but Cardozo needed to be offside to be first to the ball after Artur saved from Javi Garcia's header. The hosts then set into an attacking routine with Aimar pulling the strings as he picked out Javier Saviola, who stung the palms of Artur, before Cardozo wasted a good chance by chipping over.
Aimar almost caught out Artur with a long-range effort before teeing up Cardozo who, after shrugging off Paulao, sent a low shot against the post.
Benfica were unlucky to only be level at the break but deservedly led on 50 minutes following an eye-catching move. Maxi Pereira tricked his way past Alan and into the area and while Cardozo headed his floated cross against the post, the rebound fell perfectly for Jardel to poke home.
The lead lasted just three minutes as Braga claimed their valuable away goal. Hugo Viana whipped in a free-kick and Vandinho, who held his position ahead of the retreating defence, expertly diverted his header past a wrong-footed Roberto.
It was the second impressive goal of the gam,e but both were overshadowed by Cardozo's emphatic free-kick soon after. Alan was again exposed in defence as he felled Carlos Martins just outside the area to allow Cardozo to size up the free-kick. He went for power and placement to devastating effect as the ball whistled over the wall and past a helpless Artur.
With the lead regained Benfica sat back to negate Braga's counter-attacking threat and, while the visitors briefly threatened through Alan and Lima, the hosts maintained a lead to take to their rivals in seven days' time.