Estádio AXA, Braga, Portugal
11′ Lisandro López
Pizzi returned to the Estadio AXA, the ground where he first made his name as a professional player, to help his Benfica side earn a victory over his former side. His goal was one of two early first half goals that helped Benfica leapfrog their opponents into third. Lisandro Lopez was the other scorer, volleying the second and ensuring the Lisbon outfit took all three points.
Both sides rattled the woodwork during the game, the hosts, in particular, hitting it three times, but they couldn’t beat Júlio César in the visiting goal.
The home side were two points ahead of their opposition going into the match.
It was a very evenly contested first couple of minutes, but the away side started better and found themselves in front after three minutes. A deflected Pizzi effort managed to sneak in past Stanislav Kritsyuk, after good initial play from Kostas Mitroglou to give the champions an early lead. To rub salt in the wounds, Pizzi was a former Braga player.
The home side came close to leveling a couple of minutes later, direct from a freekick, but Alan’s effort was tipped behind by the experienced Júlio César.
The visitors had an opportunity to extend the lead after Mitroglou was brought down by Baiano just outside the area. The resulting freekick from Pizzi, was deflected narrowly wide.
They did double the lead soon after, Jardel flicked on a corner and centre-back Lisandro López finished like a striker; chesting the ball before volleying past Kritsyuk.
In the 14th minute, the home side should have pulled one back, Ahmed Hassan’s header hitting the upright before Rafa Silva’s strike on the rebound was instinctively tipped over the bar by César.
Four minutes later and goalscorer López almost got his second, leaping over his man to head just over the bar. The visitors looked dangerous every time they managed to get forward and Mitroglou almost made it three, but his tame shot was saved well by Kritsyuk.
In the 27th minute the home side came close to pulling one back, Nikola Stojiljković did well to stay onside before firing wide from a tight-angle. Two minutes later and they came close again, Willy Boly met a set-piece with his head, and his header looped onto the top of the woodwork, which César had covered.
In the 36th minute, Baiano crossed for Hassan, but this time his header was well off-target. Minutes before the break, Hassan, who looked the biggest threat to César’s goal, came close to reducing the deficit but again his header was off target.
That was the last action of the first 45 minutes as the referee blew his whistle to end the first half where the away side led by two goals to nil.
The second period began with the hosts dominating possession. Their first real opportunity of the second period came from a corner. Ricardo Ferreira found space in the area, to scuff a shot into the grateful arms of César.
A minute later and Benfica almost put the game to bed. A freekick was worked to Nicolás Gaitán who thundered his strike against the crossbar with Kritsyuk rooted to the spot.
After the hour mark, both sides opted for changes. The home side brought on Filipe Augusto for Mauro, and the visitors took Mitroglou off for Raúl Jiménez.
Minutes after their introduction, Eliseu was penalised for a foul and the home side were gifted a freekick on the edge of the area. Substitute Augusto took it and his effort also rattled the bar, with César well beaten.
In the 73rd minute, Jonas entered the frame to replace Gonçalo Guuedes for the away side.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Benfica almost put the game to bed, substitute Jonas found space to drive a shot that Kritsyuk parried, and as Pizzi tried to follow up he was caught by Baiano, though the referee saw nothing untoward with the Brazilian’s challenge.
Minutes later, Braga decided to make another change bringing on Joan Román in place of Rafa Silva. With four minutes to go, the home side made another change, Djavan departed for Pedro Santos.
A few minutes later, and Braga came close to finding the net, Augusto forcing César into a good save, before Benfica made a change. Goalscorer Pizzi made way for Bryan Cristante.
There wasn’t much action of note late on as the referee blew his whistle to bring the game to an end, with Benfica victorious by two goals to nil.
The victory for Benfica meant that they leapfrogged their opponents into third on 21 points, a point ahead of their opponents on 20 points. The Eagles also have a game in hand and can try to chase rivals Porto who are three points ahead, and play on Wednesday. The defeat for Braga leaves them fourth, a point behind Benfica and two points above Rio Ave in fifth.