A superb late strike from Lima gave Benfica a narrow advantage to take to Turin after a 2-1 victory over Juventus in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal at the Estadio da Luz.
The substitute’s rasping effort six minutes from time crucially restored a lead that Benfica held for much of the contest. Ezequiel Garay had headed the hosts in front inside two minutes and that’s how the scoreline remained until the 73rd minute when Carlos Tevez came up with first European goal in five years at what looked like the perfect time for the Italian champions. Lima’s late introduction, coupled with several late missed chances from Juventus leaves the tie firmly in the balance as both sides seek a return to the Juventus Stadium for the final next month.
Juventus have been favorites to lift the trophy ever since dropping out of the Champions League group stage. Yet their performances in Europe have largely continued to fall below the standard produced domestically and they endured a start to forget in Lisbon. A well-delivered corner from the lively Miralem Sulejmani saw Garay easily escape the attentions of Leonardo Bonucci to allow him to head down into the corner and get his second goal of this season’s Europa League, despite Gianluigi Buffon getting two hands to the ball.
Benfica could have made it 2-0 less than 10 minutes later but Sulejmani smashed wide of the near post after a quick break from Jorge Jesus’ men. It wasn’t until the second period that Juventus looked capable of getting back into the contest. Their pressure gradually increased as the half wore on, with Paul Pogba having a header just turned past the post by Artur. But Benfica’s defending was becoming increasingly desperate, including Maxi Pereira’s clearance to prevent Claudio Marchisio from tapping in a low cross.
There was little surprise then when the visitors finally got back on level terms. And it was a goal that finally gets a long-lasting monkey off their striker’s back. Marchisio’s fine pass made the goal, finding Kwadwo Asamoah in behind down the left. The Ghanaian’s pull-back was taken expertly by Tevez, before he completely fooled two Benfica defenders with a deft feint and then beat Artur with a low finish at his near post.
It appeared just reward for Juventus’ second-half showing. Benfica, though, had other ideas. The freshly crowned Portuguese champions regained their attacking intent in spectacular fashion. From Enzo Perez’s pass inside, Ivan Cavaleiro produced the deftest of touches on for his arriving fellow-substitute Lima to crash an unstoppable drive past Buffon and into the roof of the net.
The goal suddenly blew the game wide open. Lazar Markovic placed a shot just past the post and Cavaleiro had a shot blocked, while Marchisio saw his finish from a glorious chance denied by the legs of Artur before Giorgio Chiellini lashed an effort wide to keep the identity of the finalists firmly in doubt.