The Eagles flew into the Algarve expecting easy pickings against relegation threatened Olhanense but were tested all the way to the final whistle.
Olhanense manager Paulo Alves was without Lucas Souza, dropped for disciplinary reasons after an altercation with the coach, injured players Jander and Rui Duarte and the suspended Seric sent-off the previous week against Rio Ave.
Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, who played for Olhanense in the 70s, was serving his final match suspension following his fight with police officers after the game with V.Guimarães in September.
On the pitch it was the home side who incredibly took the lead after just seven minutes. Dionisi had his rasping shot parried by Artur but the little Senegalese livewire Femi was on hand to smash the ball into roof of the net.
‘Moss the Stork’, the Olhanense mascot, showed his delight by flapping his wings up-and-down the touchline much to the amusement of the home supporters. Benfica came back strongly but were lucky with their equaliser. Nico Gaitan centred from the left where Lima was on hand to head past keeper Belec. TV action replays showed that Lima was clearly in an off-side position.
Back came Olhanense and when Regula picked up the ball 30 metres out there seemed little danger. But the tall midfielder had other ideas as he took two strides and hammered the ball past Artur who was slow to react – the first time all season that the ‘rubro-negros’ had scored more than one goal in a league game!
Again Benfica levelled the score when, five minutes later, Matic netted from outside the box.
An exciting 45 minutes that had thrilled the crowd of over 6,000 on a chilly winter’s night. Half-time Benfica substitute Sulejmani made an explosive impact, scoring immediately after the restart to put the Lisbon side ahead for the first time.
With 20 minutes to go, Benfica’s keeper Artur fell awkwardly, dislocating his shoulder, and after a lengthy stoppage he was replaced by Oblak. With 10 minutes of added time, due to the injury, there were still opportunities for the home side to mount a couple of attacks but tired legs and a resolute Benfica defence denied the home side the equaliser they so richly deserved. Tonight (Friday) Olhanense face another stiff test away at FC Porto; live on Sport TV kick-off 7pm
Little Portugal in London
Four years after my first visit to Café Portugal in the heart of Little Portugal in Vauxhall, London, close to the New Covent Garden, I was welcomed with open arms. My last visit was to watch Olhanense play their first game back in the Primeira Liga which coincided with my son’s wedding to the lovely Emily. This time my visit was to see new addition to the family Charlotte and her three year-old brother William. We toasted the baby with a bottle of Sagres before settling down to watch the Olhanense v Benfica game with a café full of Benfica fans! This area of London has a thriving Portuguese community with numerous Portuguese cafés and restaurants. So if you are in the capital, take the tube to Vauxhall and ‘do the walk’ down South Lambeth Road for a good coffee and pastel de nata!