Buoyant Benfica send Zenit out
Two injury-time goals courtesy of Maxi Pereira and Nelson Oliveira secured Benfica's passage to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with a convincing 2-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg.
Jorge Jesus's side had succumbed 3-2 in Russia in the first leg of the knockout phase after Roman Shirokov stunned the Portuguese by scoring the second of a brace of goals in the 88th minute.
Goals from Pereira, in first-half injury time, and Oliveira, at the tail end, capped a solid performance at the Stadium of Light and sent Benfica into the last eight of Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 2006.
Pereira and Jesus now believe Benfica could go all the way. "We deserved to win and I'm really happy with this result," said Pereira. "Now we're in the quarter-finals and we can beat anybody."
Jesus added: "We now go in to the quarter-finals with the same ambitions we had at the start of the season and, whoever we get in the draw, we think we can go far."
Benfica made their intentions clear from the outset, keeping visiting goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev on his toes throughout a lively first half which ended with the hosts 1-0 ahead. Malafeev, returning for Zenit following a calf injury problem, had earlier thwarted efforts from Bruno Cesar and Pereira while Benfica keeper Artur did well to scramble away a shot by Shirokov.
However, the Russian was powerless to stop Pereira when the Uruguayan defender fired home from Axel Witsel's smart back-heel after the Belgian had picked up his own rebound from an alert Malafeev. Benfica almost pulled ahead moments later when Oscar Cardozo narrowly missed heading home past a flailing Malafeev, the ball going just wide of the post.
Zenit came out fired up for the second half, but despite beginning to show more purpose, the Russians could only watch as efforts by Jardel, with a free header that went wide of the post, then Cardozo were thwarted.
Cardozo, who with 16 league goals is joint top scorer in Portugal this season, had reason more than most to feel aggrieved. He missed another inviting chance in the 70th minute after holding off Nicolas Lombaerts, only succeeding in firing the ball beyond the far post with Malafeev beaten. Five minutes later, Malafeev parried a shot by Cardozo after a neat set-up by Cesar.
Late chances by Jardel and Oliveira also went begging, while Viktor Fayzulin spurned a chance for a dramatic late equaliser when he sent his shot wide of the post in injury time. Moments later Oliveira sealed the win when, after a swift counter from Cesar, he cushioned the pressure from Tomaz Hubocan to bundle the ball past Malafeev from close range.