Fenerbahçe stops short on brink of European final after 3-1 defeat against Benfica

Fenerbahçe stops short on brink of European final after 3-1 defeat against Benfica

Fenerbahçe stops short on brink of European final after 3-1 defeat against Benfica

Benfica's Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay (R) vies with Fenerbahçe's Senegalese forward Moussa Sow during the UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg football match SL Benfica vs Fenerbahce SK at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on May 2. AFP photo

Fenerbahçe ended a very successful UEFA Europa League campaign just on the brink of a historic first European final, after a 3-1 defeat May 2 against Benfica in Lisbon in a thrilling semifinal second-leg match.

The 1-0 victory in the first game did not prove enough, and Benfica cruised to the final, lifted by Cardozo's two goals, completing a 3-2 aggregate success. The Portuguese will now play against Chelsea, who crushed Basel 5-2 on aggregate after a 3-1 win in London.

Forced to score, the Benfica players had a fast start and laid the siege on Fenerbahçe's area from the get-go. Lisbon's Eagles equalized the tie on aggregate as early as the ninth minute with Nicolas Gaetan's opener. The Argentine gave the lead to the Lisboetas, chipping a perfectly timed pass from Lima into the net.

However Benfica's joy was to be cut short in the 22nd minute when Ezequel Garay committed a handball inside the area, leading to a penalty.

The Yellow Canaries, who had wasted a penalty during the first game in Istanbul, did not make the same mistake twice, as veteran Dutch star Dirk Kuyt calmly put the ball into the right corner, sending the goalkeeper, Artur, the wrong way.

With Benfica intensifying its pressure, Fenerbahçe threatened Benfica on counterattacks carried out by a very active Moussa Sow. The explosive Senegalese striker Sow tested Artur first with a shot from the right side of the area in the 27th minute. Three minutes later, Sow entered the left side of the area but missed the target.

Both sides were enjoying opportunities in a tit-for-tat fashion when Benfica doubled the score in the 35th minute thanks to his own ace Cardozo. The Paraguayan's spotless finish on Enzo Perez's pass went to the net far from Volkan Demirel's reach.

Still, Fenerbahçe had a chance to equalize almost immediately. Reto Ziegler's center across the goal beat the goalkeeper but Sow failed to connect with the ball, before Kuyt, at a narrow angle, struck it into the side net.

In the 41st minute, Nemanja Matic from Benfica sent a rocket inside Fenerbahçe's area, but missed the target and the Canaries entered the break with a slim but vital advantage on away goals.

The dizzying pace of the first half continued during the second half, with Benfica eager to turn the tie in their favor as quickly as possible. Danger came again from Cardozo, who in the 50th minute penetrated inside Fenerbahçe's area and sent a shot that went narrowly wide.

However Benfica continued to pressure their rivals, and it was again Cardozo in the 66th minute who fired a loose ball inside the area to the corner, delivering for the buoyant crowd.

Now Fenerbahçe needed to score, while Benfica continued to chase the fourth goal to kill off the tie. The Canaries had several opportunities, especially with Kuyt in the 71st minute and Korkmaz in the injury time, but Benfica managed to hold on to the scoreboard.

Fenerbahçe’s time ran out as the Istanbul club closed its most successful year in Europe.