BENFICA BLAST SIX IN MILANESE MAULING
Two of world football’s most illustrious names fought out an engrossing last eight encounter on Friday afternoon, with Benfica cruising to a 6-0 victory against AC Milan.
The Italians could consider themselves slightly fortunate to have made the quarter-finals in the first place, having scraped a 1-0 win over Wydad before succumbing to Esperance Tunis, failing to impress in a 2-0 defeat.
In contrast, Benfica had already piled up the accolades in blazing a trail to the quarters, amassing 11 goals as the tournament’s highest scoring team and, in Goncalo Ramos, boasting the joint-highest individual goalscorer coming into this game. He would lead the charts by some distance by the time this match was over.
Hugo Nunes had scored one of the greatest goals in Al Kass history – a magnificent solo effort in the Portuguese’ opening 4-0 stroll against Guangzhou Evergrande and, in Jair Tavares, they possessed one of the most exciting wingers on show at the Aspire Zone.
In addition, the boys from Benfica had conjured the greatest comeback in the tournament’s history in their previous game, against Aspire Academy, recovering from two down at half time to romp home by seven goals to three, helping themselves to five goals in 16 exhilarating minutes.
No surprise, then, that Benfica came into this game as hot favourites to reach the semi-finals, and they instantly justified the hype, taking the lead with the game just a minute old. Goncalo De Oliviera got on the end of a cross from the left and his mishit first-time shot looped in, despite the best efforts of Milan full back Gabriele Basani to keep the ball from crossing the line.
The Italians were scarcely able to escape from their own half until the 14th minute, when Daniel Maldini - the latest product of one of football’s most famous families - was put clear eight yards from goal, only for keeper Samuel Soares to get an outstretched right boot to the ball and keep the striker’s well-struck shot out.
Two minutes later Tavares went close for Benfica, cutting in from the left before exchanging quick passes and hammering in a low, long-range effort that Milan keeper Niccolo Zanellato dealt with comfortably.
He was left looking distinctly uncomfortable 23 minutes in, however, when Tavares again picked the ball up - this time 30 yards from goal in a central position - and supplied Ramos, five yards to his right. The fabulous forward took a couple of touches before firing a firm shot into the bottom left corner, past the despairing dive of Zanellato. It was the striker’s fourth goal in three games, making him the tournament’s top scorer.
Benfica were easily the better side by now but, seven minutes before half time, Milan’s Giacomo Olzer very nearly reduced the deficit when he curled a magnificent long-range effort from the right of the area which ricocheted off the bar, with Soares beaten. It was the best attempt that the Milanese could muster in the first half, which drew to a close with Benfica adding a third – and a second for Ramos – when the prolific striker met a cross from the right with a deadly first-time strike that left Zanellato with no chance.
With Benfica now strolling towards victory, captain Alexandre Correia, Ramos and Tavares were withdrawn at half-time, to preserve energy for what was by now an inevitable semi-final appearance, with Rafael De Brito, Ronaldo Camara and Tiago Gouveia replacing them.
The triple substitution did nothing to disrupt the Portuguese side’s rhythm, and they were four goals to the good within three minutes of the restart. There seemed little danger when Zanellato came out of his area to collect a bouncing ball, but Gouveia advanced and got the first touch before slotting into an empty goal.
Just ahead of the hour mark, it was five nil, with Gouveia notching his second in less than 15 minutes. The jet-heeled winger outran the Milan backline down the inside right channel, advancing into the area and lashing a powerful finish into the bottom left corner.
And, on 74 minutes, right back Joao Ferriera made it six, blasting an unstoppable first-time drive that, once again, powered into the bottom left corner past the despairing dive of Zanellato.
With the game now over as a contest, the pace slowed, with Benfica certain of progress and Milan resigned to their fate. The young Italians still have fifth place to play for, and will undoubtedly be enriched by their experience at Al Kass. For the Portuguese pacesetters, meanwhile, the sky is the limit.