A second-half strike by Benjamin Huggel earned
Basel a 1-1 Champions League draw at Benfica on Wednesday that keeps the Swiss
side in the Group C hunt and ended the hosts' hopes of securing their place in
the last 16 with two games to spare.
Benfica and Manchester United, who beat Otelul Galati 2-0 at Old Trafford,
both have eight points, with Basel, who play the pointless Romanian group
whipping boys next, on five and still very much in the hunt for a last-16 place.
Benfica's next game is away to United, though they can expect to finish with
three points when they host Otelul in their final match which would send them
through even if they were to lose at Old Trafford.
"This was not the result that we were looking for but the draw keeps us in a
good position to qualify. We will go to Manchester to win the match and fight
for the top place in the group," said Benfica assistant coach Raul Jose.
Jose was deputizing for Jorge Jesus, banned for one game following a red
card in last month's meeting between the two in Switzerland.
Benfica burst out of the blocks with Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar running
at the Basel defence in the first minute to feed striker Rodrigo, whose shot was
tipped against the post by keeper Yann Sommer.
"I feel like I am working well and hope to secure my space in the team,
things have been coming out nicely for me," said Rodrigo.
The Spaniard, selected ahead of Paraguay international Oscar Cardozo, did
not waste his second chance three minutes later, firing in a half-volley into
the top right corner after a headed pass from Nicolas Gaitan.
Gaitan now boasts four assists in the Champions League and almost made
another decisive pass after 19 minutes with a pin-point cross that found
Ezequiel Garay unmarked in the area, but the Argentine defender's header flew
just wide of the goal.
Having won 2-0 in Switzerland last month, Benfica were looking good for the
double that would have secured their last-16 spot but Basel gradually came back
into the match.
"We always kept a positive attitude but we played against a strong opponent,
who passed the ball around well, it wasn't by any chance that they drew at
Manchester United," Jose said.
The visitors caused most danger from their right flank and it was from there
that they earned their first real chance after 32 minutes, when Fabian Frei sent
a header just wide after a cross by Jacques Zoua.
Benfica failed to turn their fluid play into a second goal and Basel grew in
confidence, coming close twice in the early stages of the second half before
equalising after 63 minutes in a rare left-sided move.
Scott Chipperfield made a run and squared for Huggel to slot the ball in
cleanly from 12 metres out.
Benfica almost regained their lead moments later when Belgian midfielder
Axel Witsel put Rodrigo through in the box, but the striker had a tight angle
and hit the side netting and the celebrations were put on hold.
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