Spurs staring at Europa League exit after home defeat against Benfica
21:59 13 March 2014
Europa League last 16 first leg: Tottenham 1 Benfica 3
Tottenham’s hopes of progressing in the Europa League are hanging by a thread after they were defeated 3-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie against Benfica at White Hart Lane.
The Portuguese league leaders broke away to score a precious away goal in the 29th minute – and their captain Luisao then scored from two corners in the second period, sandwiching a Christian Eriksen free-kick.
Spurs will have to score three goals at the Stadium of Light next week to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals – and they will have to win without Jan Vertonghen, who will be suspended after picking up a yellow card 10 minutes from time.
Having sprung a surprise at the weekend by fielding Kyle Walker on the right of midfield against Chelsea, Tim Sherwood raised eyebrows again tonight, picking Harry Kane in his starting line-up for the first time.
Spurs started well and dominated possession for the first half an hour, while showing good work-rate and pressing effectively.
However, they struggled to make an impact in the final third, being restricted to a wayward 25-yard strike from Sandro and a cross from Aaron Lennon, which forced Silvio to beat Emmanuel Adebayor in the air and make an important header.
Benfica were doing little to trouble Hugo Lloris at the other end – until the 29th minute, when they scored with their first opportunity.
There seemed to be little danger, but Ruben Amorim split the Spurs defence with one killer through ball from inside his half, and Rodrigo raced past Kyle Naughton on the outside to latch onto it before coolly finishing into the far corner.
Tottenham immediately looked rattled, losing their composure in the remainder of the first half – and they faced another test of their character in the second half.
They produced their best chance so far shortly after the break as Eriksen drifted infield and freed Adebayor with a neat through ball. The forward had time to take a touch inside the box and pick his spot, but scewed his shot well wide.
Paulinho then nearly released Eriksen with a visionary prodded pass, but Adebayor intercepted the ball – and he was offside.
Those missed opportunities proved to be costly because Benfica doubled their lead in the 58th minute.
Kane tried to beat a man inside his own half but lost out, gifting Amorim a shot on goal. Lloris tipped it over the bar acrobatically, but when the ensuing corner came into the box, Luisao was left all alone to head home at the front post.
Spurs had fought back from a similar scenario in their previous European game at the Lane, when they had trailed 2-0 against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Eriksen had started that comeback with a second-half free-kick – and the Dane repeated the feat against Benfica, halving the deficit with another set piece as he whipped the ball into the top left corner from 25 yards.
Eriksen’s next free-kick gave Younes Kaboul a header at goal, but it was too weak to trouble Jan Oblak, who held on in the packed penalty box.
Spurs nearly shot themselves in the foot as Lloris came out of his box to field a long ball but misjudged it, nearly allowing Rodrigo to get past him and finish into an empty net – but the Frenchman managed to claw the ball behind for a corner.
With just under 15 minutes left Sherwood made a double change, swapping Kane and Kyle Walker for Roberto Soldado and Danny Rose, and Nabil Bentaleb then replaced Sandro.
However, Spurs suffered a blow in the 80th minute as Vertonghen was shown a yellow card which rules him out of the second leg in Portugal.
Moments later it didn’t seem to matter, because Benfica scored a third goal from another corner. Lloris got down to save the initial header, but Luisao pounced on the loose ball, hammering it into the net off the underside of the bar.
Benfica boss Jorge Jesus celebrated by holding up three fingers to Sherwood, resulting in a touch-line confrontation – and Jesus then bickered with his own staff. However, it was the visitors who went home happy while Spurs were booed off the field at the final whistle.
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker (Rose 76), Kaboul, Vertonghen, Naughton, Sandro (Bentaleb 82), Paulinho, Lennon, Kane (Soldado 76), Eriksen, Adebayor
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