Football: Benfica with one foot in Champions League quarters after beating Club Brugge

Benfica's David Neres celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS - Benfica coach Roger Schmidt was thrilled that his team were “halfway there” as they closed in on a place in the Champions League quarter-finals, after a 2-0 win over Club Brugge in Belgium in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Both goals came in the second half at the Jan Breydelstadion.

Joao Mario opened the scoring from the penalty spot six minutes after the restart. Substitute David Neres then pounced on sloppy defending to add a second late on.

The Portuguese league leaders will be expected to complete the job when the sides meet in Lisbon for the second leg on March 7.

“When you play the first leg away from home in a Champions League tie and win it, is always a good first step. We are halfway there,” Schmidt said.

“Brugge actively pressed and created many chances, but we showed our class. We already controlled the match by the end of the first half and began moving more forward, creating chances.

“Second half went well, too. We scored a penalty, and then the second goal became very important.”

Schmidt’s team have lost just once in their domestic league this campaign and topped their Champions League group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

They do not appear to have been seriously affected by the loss of star midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who was sold to Chelsea for €121 million (S$172.8 million) in January.

Benfica were simply too strong for a Club Brugge side who have won just once in eight matches, since former Bournemouth manager Scott Parker was appointed as coach at the end of December.

“A 2-0 defeat isn’t something you can be happy with, but I have seen a lot of positive things in this game,” Parker said.

“I’m just super proud of the team. After five weeks of coaching them, I’m finally seeing what I was looking for. But little mistakes lost us this game tonight.”

Benfica’s Joao Mario scores their first goal from the penalty spot. PHOTO: REUTERS

Playing in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time, the hosts did have the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when a Denis Odoi header deflected into the net. But it was disallowed for offside.

Instead, Benfica went in front shortly after the restart and Portugal World Cup star Goncalo Ramos played a part in the goal.

Ramos, who netted a hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 demolition of Switzerland in Qatar, missed a golden chance to open the scoring just before he was brought down by Jack Hendry in the area and won his side a penalty which Mario converted.

Brazilian winger Neres and on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Goncalo Guedes replaced Rafa Silva and Ramos midway through the second half and they combined as Benfica got the crucial second in the 88th minute. AFP

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