UEFA Champions League
Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (Da Luz), Lisboa, Portugal
Benfica progressed into the Last-16 of the Champions League for the second consecutive season despite being defeated 2-1 by Napoli, who advanced into the Knock-out Stages for the first time since 2012, at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (Da Luz) in Lisboa, in what was their final Group B match.
A late Rául Jiménez strike proved to be a mere consolation for the Águias, who fell behind after José Callejón’s chipped effort just before the hour-mark. Substitute Dries Mertens’ fine solo strike doubled the Italian outfit’s lead before Jiménez’s goal reduced the deficit three minutes from time to give the defending Portuguese Champions a slight glimmer of hope, but it was too little too late for Rui Vitória’s men. However due to results going their way elsewhere, last season’s Quarter-Finalists Benfica joined Napoli into the Round of 16 courtesy of Dynamo Kiev’s 6-0 demolition of nine-men Besiktas.
Both sides started well but it was the hosts who had the first sight of goal in the 12th minute when a Gonçalo Guedes cross was met by Jiménez but the Mexican headed just over the bar.
In the 20th minute the visitors thought they had taken the lead when Lorenzo Insigne found Marek Hamšík, who fired an effort that Ederson parried into the path of Manolo Gabbiadini, who headed home the follow-up, but the flag was already up for offside and the goal was ruled out.
A minute later Benfica had a good chance when a Faouzi Ghoulam clearance was charged-down into the path of Guedes, who dragged his effort just wide on the stretch under-pressure.
Two minutes later the hosts went close again when Jiménez surged forward to fire an effort at goal but Pepe Reina palmed the strike behind.
In the 34th minute the Italian side had a good chance when Ghoulam seized onto a loose ball after Nélson Semedo lost his footing and pulled the ball back to Callejón, but he scuffed his first-time effort and Ederson did well to make the save and hold onto the ball.
The Brazilian keeper was forced into action two minutes later when Gabbiadini was found by Hamšík, the striker was one-on-one with Ederson, but the keeper smothered the effort.
The visitors started the second-half in the ascendancy and immediately had a good chance when a Callejón pull-back found Gabbiadini but his first-time effort was blocked by Luisão.
Two minutes later the Italian side should have taken the lead when a fine cross-field pass from Insigne found Callejón, the Spaniard was in acres of space and had time but fired wide first-time.
In the 59th minute the Spaniard made amends. Callejón was played through on-goal after a lovely flick by substitute Mertens and surged forward before chipping Ederson.
Seven minutes later the visitors went close to a second when an ambitious lob from Insigne was saved well by Ederson following a Napoli corner.
Ten minutes later Benfica went close when a Pizzi freekick curled inches wide of the near-post.
Two minutes later the Neapolitans doubled their lead. After a Napoli corner was cleared, the visitors recovered the ball and used it well to find Mertens, who surged forward and beat Luisão before curling home via the post.
Three minutes later Mertens was involved again when he found substitute Piotr Zieliński, who should have made it three but Ederson palmed the effort away with the Brazilian doing his bit to keep the score respectable.
Four minutes later Benfica pulled a goal back when Rául Albiol gifted possession to Jiménez deep in his own half, allowing the Mexican to surge forward before coolly slotting home past Reina.
Benfica were in search of another goal that would take them to the top of the table at the expense of their Italian opponents, but it wasn’t to be as Napoli held on to progress into the Last-16 for the first time since 2012.
The result meant that because of results elsewhere Napoli and Benfica progressed into the Last-16 of the competition. Benfica finished the Group in second on eight points whilst Napoli topped the Group on 11 points. Besiktas’ 6-0 hammering away to Dynamo Kiev meant that they finished third on seven points and bow out of the competition and drop into the Europa League, whilst Kiev finished fourth on five points and as a result the Ukrainian side will not be participating in European competitions in the New Year.