The stories of legendary proportions continued to be written on Tuesday night as Group D was decided. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, former Group D leaders Shakhtar Donetsk were knocked out of all European competitions last night. Oscar Cardozo was the hero for Portugese giants Benfica as he scored two goals in the first half. Cardozo punished an early Shakhtar mistake, a poor back pass from Lewandowski, stepping past goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov and slotting the ball home in the sixth minute.
Shakhtar had a shout for a penalty soon after as Brandao was brought down inside the Benfica area but referee Kyros Vassaras waved play on. Benfica were able to continue building their momentum and in the 22nd minute, Cardozo struck again. He timed his leap to perfection as he headed in Maxi Pereira’s right-wing cross to leave the Ukrainian club shell-shocked. To their credit, Shakhtar picked up the challenge and tried to fight their way back into the match. They were given a lifeline in the 32nd minute when David Luiz was judged to have impeded Cristiano Lucarelli inside the Benfica area. Though Quim nearly saved it, Lucarelli converted from the spot to make it 2-1 and add a bit of potential controversy to the match. To my eye, it was embellished but TV replays are often misleading and the referee has to make a snap decision based on a one-time witnessing of the act.
The second half saw Shakhtar pile men forward and launch a desperate attack, but Benfica remained organized and compact and were able to concentrate everything they had into defending the lead. It was an exciting ending with plenty of close calls but ultimately Benfica prevailed and will now progress to the UEFA Cup where I would rank them as one of the favourites to progress deep into the competition. If you want to see about three minutes of highlights from this match there is currently a clip over on YouTube.
Benfica’s win meant that the outcome of the other match in the group did not matter though at the time none of the participants knew that. AC Milan were looking to finish the group stage strongly and assure themselves of a more favorable draw for the next round. However, the match itself was not a very exciting affair as both clubs lacked initiative for the first 45 mintues.
The one highlight from this match was the winning goal by Filippo Inzaghi. Not only did it give his side all three points but it also pushed him past German great Gerd Muller as the top scorer in UEFA competitions. Inzhagi now has 63 goals in 98 appearances in UEFA club competition and at 34 continues to surprise with his performances. It is unlikely that he will catch Raul for the all-time mark in Champions League play as he is twelve goals behind. It is even unsure how long he will last as the all-time scorer in UEFA club competitions as Ruud van Nistelrooy is charging hard towards both marks. van Nistelrooy has 57 goals is Champions League play and is having another fantastic campaign with 4 goals in 5 matches. van Nistelrooy also holds the single season record for the Champions League when he scored 12 goals for Manchester United in the 2002/03 campaign.
However, let’s celebrate what Inzaghi has accomplished and let us remember that it was his goals last season that fired AC Milan to victory in the finals of the competition. Congrats to you Super Pippo!