Having been outplayed and outclassed for almost the entirety of their Europa League last-16 encounter with Benfica, Tottenham were doing little more in Lisbon than going through the motions, meekly resigned to their fate. A first-half goal from Ezequiel Garay had given the hosts a 4-1 aggregate lead in a second leg that both teams appeared content to play out to its seemingly inevitable conclusion.
With 12 minutes remaining at the Estadio da Luz, Nacer Chadli, one of the few bright spots in a depleted Tottenham side, smashed a low shot into the Benfica goal. When he then turned and finished from six yards just 90 seconds later, Tottenham were suddenly on the verge of a most improbable comeback.
They had chances to get a third goal they needed to force extra time, too, but Gylfi Sigurdsson and Harry Kane both failed to beat Benfica goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Having also seen an ambitious penalty appeal waved away, Spurs’ hopes were dashed with the final kick of the match when, having been clumsily brought down by Sandro, Lima slotted home a penalty.
Tim Sherwood, who watched on from a suit in the stands after his touchline altercation with Benfica coach Jorge Jesus last week and gilet-throwing antics against Arsenal, will doubtless attempt to take positives from the way his side came so close to pulling the tie around late on. One has to wonder, though, why such little intent on getting back into the tie was shown for so long. Christian Eriksen remained on the bench until 14 minutes remaining, while when a second striker appeared in Kane, it was to replace rather than join Roberto Soldado. Having slipped out of the running for a Champions League place with recent defeats, the harsh reality is that Spurs’ season has effectively come to an end in mid-March.
Tottenham’s hopes of a comeback had been hit before kickoff with Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul and Paulinho joining an already lengthy list of absentees that also included the suspended Jan Vertonghen. For most of the encounter, it appeared that the not even the Tottenham players who did take the field believed a revival was a possibility.
The first chance of the match fell to the man who had scored twice a week ago at White Hart Lane. Luisao again proved a danger in the air, this time getting above Sandro but unable to keep his header down.
Benfica were controlling the ball with ease but showing little impetus to push for further goals. The onus was on the visitors to chase the game, yet their attacking players were offering precious little. Still, they had two openings from set-pieces that could have provided some hope of an unlikely turnaround. Unfortunately for them Roberto Soldado continued to look bereft of confidence in front of goal when horribly miscuing a volley at the back post having been left all alone from a corner. Chadli, the man given the role of supporting Soldado through the middle, later headed another corner over the bar.
Having been unable to yield the warnings from earlier in the half, or indeed the first leg, Tottenham’s makeshift defense was breached with a Benfica defender again doing the damage. Following a half-cleared corner, Eduardo Salvio made a mockery of Aaron Lennon’s woeful attempt to win the ball down the Benfica right and the winger chipped in a cross that allowed his fellow-Argentine Garay to get the run on Sandro and power a header past Brad Friedel.
To an even greater extent than the opening period, the second half appeared a mere formality. With Tottenham posing no threat, other than when Andros Townsend came briefly to life with a good run and shot into the side netting, Benfica had fallen into a predictable lull so often seen with a side holding a big first-leg lead.
That easing off by the Portuguese Liga leaders didn’t look like proving costly until Chadli’s bolt from the blue. The Belgian gave a welcome glimpse of the form that enticed Tottenham to sign him from FC Twente last summer by cutting in from the left and firing a low shot inside the Oblak’s near post. With Benfica still reeling from that wakeup call, Kane then headed back into the six-yard box and, perhaps just level with the last defender, Chadli turned and shot left-footed high into the net.
Benfica were very much rattled. The previously anonymous captain for the night Lennon got to a through ball ahead of the Benfica goalkeeper and Luisao was forced to clear desperately in the middle. Meanwhile, both Sigurdsson and Kane both failed to get enough purchase on their headers to beat Oblak.
But Spurs’ revived hopes were finally dashed in the fourth minute of injury time. Sandro, who formed an unlikely center-back partnership alongside Ezekiel Fryers, clumsily stepped across Lima and the Brazilian sent Friedel the wrong way from the spot.