LISBON: Benfica reached the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday after winning an exciting contest with Juventus 4-3 and sending the Italians out of the competition.
Antonio Silva’s early header, a Joao Mario penalty just before the half-hour mark and Rafa Silva’s classy brace kept Benfica second in Group H, eight points ahead of third-placed Juve with one game to play.
Roger Schmidt’s side are unbeaten in all competitions this season and can beat their group-stage points record of 12 with a win at bottom side Maccabi Haifa next week.
Benfica are level on 11 points with leaders Paris Saint-Germain and have a chance to top the group next week, although they would need Juve to get a result against the French champions in Turin after being dumped out at the group stage for the first time in nine years.
“We played brilliantly with and without the ball,” said Schmidt.
“We were playing against Juventus who are not an easy team to play against, but we believed in ourselves and played great football.”
Juve traveled to Lisbon knowing that only a win would give them any hope of making it through to the last 16, but although Moise Kean had them level in the 21st minute the away side never had the chance to claim the three points.
Another bad night for Juve was somewhat alleviated by the fight shown late on, with quickfire goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Weston McKennie, and a big push for the win in the final 15 minutes turning what looked like being a thumping into merely a painful elimination.
“We made things difficult for ourselves,” under-fire Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri told Sky in Italy.
“(But) our elimination was already decided before we played tonight’s match.”
The defeat will put more pressure on Allegri on a day in which prosecutors in Italy closed preliminary investigations into alleged false accounting by Juve.
His team have lost four of their five matches in the competition and are not even guaranteed of dropping down to the Europa League as they are level on just three points with Maccabi.
Benfica were well on top by the time Antonio Silva put the hosts ahead in the 17th minute, glancing in his first goal of the season from Enzo Fernandez’s vicious inswinging cross after a short corner.
Kean stunned the bouncing home crowd four minutes later when he jabbed home following chaos from Filip Kostic’s corner. Although his finish was initially ruled out for offside, a long VAR check amid ear-piercing whistles led to the Serb drawing Juve level.
But just as Juve looked like they had rattled Benfica, Juan Cuadrado handed them the chance to retake the lead from the penalty spot, an opportunity which Joao Mario gobbled up with a powerful strike in the 28th minute.
And Rafa piled further misery on Juve with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, just after Dusan Vlahovic had fluffed a great chance to level the scores for a second time.
The former Portugal forward spread the ball wide and then raced into the box, tracked by no-one and left completely free to audaciously backheel in Joao Mario’s drilled low cross.
Rafa showed another touch of class five minutes after the break to extend his team’s deserved lead to three, dinking over Wojciech Szczesny after Leonardo Bonucci played a lazy pass straight to Alejandro Grimaldo.
The 29-year-old would have completed his hat-trick in the 76th minute had he not volleyed over another beautiful Joao Mario cross.
From there Juve suddenly brought the match back to life.
Two minutes after Rafa’s miss, Milik swept in a cross from lively teenage substitute Samuel Iling-Junior and seconds later McKennie cut the deficit to just one, lashing in following a goalmouth scramble.
Juve pushed bravely knowing that they needed two more to keep their Champions League campaign going. They were unable break through and were lucky not to concede a fifth with four minutes left when Rafa hit the post with only Szczesny to beat.