Benfica closed in on a place in the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions League after easing to a 2-0 victory over Club Brugge in Belgium in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday.
Both goals came in the second half at the Jan Breydelstadion, with Joao Mario opening the scoring from the penalty spot six minutes after the restart and substitute David Neres putting daylight between the teams by pouncing on sloppy defending to add another goal late on.
The Portuguese league leaders, who lost to Liverpool in the last eight last season, will be expected to complete the job when the sides meet in Lisbon for the second leg on March 7.
“When you play the first leg away from home in a Champions League tie and win it is always a good first step. We are halfway there,”Benfica coach Roger Schmidt told broadcaster Eleven Sports.
Schmidt’s team have lost just once in their domestic league in this campaign and topped their Champions League group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.
They do not appear to have been seriously affected by the loss of star midfielder Enzo Fernandez, the Argentine World Cup winner who was sold to Chelsea for 121 million euros ($132m) last month.
Benfica were simply too strong for a Club Brugge side who have won just once in eight matches since former England midfielder Scott Parker was appointed as their coach at the end of December.
“Naturally a 2-0 defeat isn’t something you can be happy with, but I have seen a lot of positive things in this game,”
“I’m just super proud of the team. After five weeks of coaching them, I’m finally seeing what I was looking for. But little mistakes lost us this game tonight.”Parker said.
The visitors should have been in front at half-time, with an unmarked Antonio Silva heading over from close range when it seemed easier to score and Rafa Silva hitting the junction of bar and post from a Joao Mario assist.
Playing in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time, the hosts did have the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when a Denis Odoi header deflected into the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
Instead, Benfica went in front shortly after the restart and Portugal World Cup star Goncalo Ramos played a part in the goal.
Ramos, who netted a hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 demolition of Switzerland at the tournament in Qatar, missed a golden chance to open the scoring just before he was brought down by Jack Hendry in the area and won his side a penalty.
Joao Mario’s spot-kick was touched onto the underside of the crossbar by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet on its way in.
Brazilian winger Neres and on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Goncalo Guedes replaced Rafa Silva and Ramos midway through the second half and they combined as Benfica got the crucial second in the 88th minute.
Guedes helped a ball on towards Neres and a poor touch by Bjorn Meijer allowed the Benfica player to steal in, run through and score.
He had another effort disallowed for offside in stoppage time but Club Brugge have a mountain to climb in the return.