A beguiling display from half-time substitute Óscar Cardozo gave SL Benfica a UEFA Champions League lifeline as they beat FC Spartak Moskva 2-0 to claim their first Group G win in four attempts.
There was little between the sides before the interval but Cardozo changed all that. He broke the deadlock within ten minutes, doubling the home advantage midway through the second period. His dominance merited a hat-trick, and he could have had one had he not twice rattled the bar, including from the spot after drawing a mistimed tackle from Nicolas Pareja, who was sent off for his troubles.
Victory lifts Benfica a point above Spartak, though Celtic FC's rousing 2-1 triumph against FC Barcelona means they remain three points off second spot. The double blow means the 4,500km trip home may feel a little longer for Spartak's sizeable contingent, whose efforts in making their presence felt in the early exchanges was not matched on the pitch – as the home team bristled with intent.
Melgarejo's cross narrowly evaded strike pair Rodrigo and Lima after an athletic run and while Artur spread himself well to deny Diniyar Bilyaletdinov at the other end, Benfica were making the running. Melgarejo set up Lima to draw a sharp save from Artem Rebrov; Eduardo Salvio smashed the rebound wide. Enzo Peréz and Rodrigo, with a curling free-kick, also went close as Jorge Jesus's men continued to press.
That was Rodrigo's last contribution, however, before Cardozo made his grand entrance. He had the ball in the net almost immediately, only to be denied by the assistant's flag. There was no stopping him, though, and a slick combination on the left between Ola John and Melgarejo ended with the Paraguay striker heading in at the back post.
The lively John fizzed a shot into the side netting as the home crowd raised the volume a notch and Cardozo drifted a header onto the bar. The pair's combined powers proved too much, as John drove to the byline and cut back for Cardozo to hook in a delicious volley.
Spartak replacement Artem Dzyuba almost made an instant impact himself after being sent on to salvage the situation, yet Artur blocked superbly with his legs. Spartak's misery was complete when Pareja was red-carded for a foul on Cardozo, though the reverberating crossbar left the super sub with a tinge of disappointment too – then news of the Celtic win came through.
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