A courageous second half performance fell just short in the Estadio da Luz this evening as we almost produced a stunning fightback against Benfica.
Despite the hosts taking a 4-1 aggregate lead through Ezequiel Garay in the first half, a quick-fire double from Nacer Chadli put us ahead on the night and just one goal from extra time. And it needed a couple of fine saves from home goalkeeper Jan Oblak to deny us that vital third goal, before Benfica settled the tie with a 93rd-minute penalty from Lima. That put them 5-3 ahead on aggregate and saw our European challenge end for another campaign.
With injuries and suspensions hitting the squad, Tim Sherwood was forced into making changes and there were five different faces in the team from Sunday’s home defeat by Arsenal. Brad Friedel, Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado, Zeki Fryers and Gylfi Sigurdsson were in the starting line-up, with Hugo Lloris, Younes Kaboul, Christian Eriksen, Emmanuel Adebayor and the suspended Jan Vertonghen making way. Eriksen was on the bench.
With the hosts two goals ahead from the first leg, the impressive Estadio da Luz – which will stage the Champions League Final in May – was far from full but there was plenty of noise, not least from the contingent of travelling Spurs fan high up on the third tier.
It was a cagey opening to the game as both sides settled into the contest before Benfica created the first opportunity on nine minutes. Miralem Sulejmani’s corner was cleared back to him and from his second cross, Luisao headed over under pressure from Sandro.
Two minutes later we had our first sight of goal when Luisao – who netted twice in the first leg – tripped Roberto Soldado 25 yards from goal. Sigurdsson stepped up but his effort clipped the top of the wall and went for a corner, which came to nothing.
Needing three goals to progress, we went in search of the early strike which would have brought us back into the tie and in truth, we had chances. From a Sigurdsson corner, Chadli glanced the ball onto Soldado completely unmarked at the far post, who controlled on his chest but his volley into the ground went up and over the bar.
And it was the Spaniard who went close again on 26 minutes when Chadli again headed the ball into him, but he was closed down as he went to shoot and his effort cannoned away for a corner. Sigurdsson whipped in the set-piece and Chadli climbed highest but sent his header wide of Oblak’s goal.
Luisao then cleared a dangerous Chadli cross with Soldado waiting to pounce behind him, while Sigurdsson laid a free-kick wide on the right into the path of Andros Townsend 22 yards out, but his right-foot shot was blocked and cleared away.
Then came the sucker-punch as the Portuguese league leaders stole the lead, Eduardo Salvio getting past Aaron Lennon with a lucky break on the byline before standing up a cross which Garay headed down past Friedel from six yards.
The first chance of the second period came on 56 minutes when Townsend and Chadli linked up down the left flank, the latter cutting inside and delivering a cross which was just out of reach of Sigurdsson on the edge of the six yard box.
And three minutes later Nabil Bentaleb sent Townsend clear down the left flank again, this time he cut inside and fired in a right-foot shot which took a slight deflection as it sailed into the side-netting. At the other end, Sandro produced a magnificent sliding tackle to deny Sulejmani as he shaped to shoot after breaking clear.
Guilherme Siqueria lashed a shot high and wide on 72 minutes before Chadli tested Oblak with a drive from the edge of the box which the keeper comfortably gathered low down. Then on 78 minutes we were level and it was a fine goal. Bentaleb’s pass was headed on by substitute Harry Kane into Chadli, who strode purposefully goalwards, cut inside and hit a low drive into the bottom corner.
And while that seemed nothing more than a consolation, its significance grew just a minute later when we added a second to take the lead on the night with the same two players combining. A cross from the right was met by Kane and found Chadli unmarked inside the six yard box who swivelled to send a shot past Oblak.
Suddenly it was game on and all the noise was coming from the Spurs fans as we pushed for a third which would send the game into extra time. And it so nearly came on 82 minutes when Bentaleb played a delightful ball inside Garay and Siqueira to Lennon, who beat Oblak to the ball but his cross was cleared straight into the arms of the home keeper.
We were in the ascendency at this stage, forcing the hosts back all the time and when Kane went down under the challenge of Sulejmani, our claims for a penalty were waved away. Then in stoppage time, Chadli sent over a fantastic cross which Sigurdsson met with a powerful header, only for Oblak to dive away to his left and deny us the crucial goal.
There was still time for another chance as Chadli this time centred for Kane at the far post, but his header was straight at Oblak.
Then in the dying seconds, Benfica launched one final attack which saw substitute Lima upended by Sandro. This time the referee did point to the spot and Lima tucked away the penalty past Friedel.
That was the end of the comeback which, just for a moment, had looked very much a possibility.
Benfica: Oblak, Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Siqueira, Salvio, Andre Gomes, Ruben Amorim, Djuricic (Perez 70), Oscar Cardozo (Lima 75), Sulejmani (Markovic 92). Substitutes (not used): Paulo Lopes, Rodrigo, Jardel, Andre Almeida.
Spurs: Friedel, Naughton, Sandro, Fryers, Rose, Bentaleb, Sigurdsson, Lennon, Chadli, Townsend (Eriksen 75), Soldado (Kane 71). Substitutes (not used): Archer, Ogilvie, Ball, Veljkovic, Winks.
Goals: Benfica – Garay 34, Lima penalty 93; Spurs – Chadli 78, 79.
Yellows: Benfica – Luisao, Perez;
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Venue: Estádio da Luz, Lisbon
Referee: Mr D Skomina