Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Benfica 2-2 Rangers: Philippe Clement’s side earn battling Europa League draw in Portugal

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Rangers were twice pegged back as Benfica came from behind to steal a 2-2 draw at the Estadio da Luz in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.

Tom Lawrence headed the visitors ahead inside the first 10 minutes before Angel Di Maria hauled Benfica level from the penalty spot after John Souttar was cruelly penalised for a supposed handball.

The decision, awarded in second-half stoppage time after VAR review, was another example of the discrepancies surrounding the dubious handball rule as Souttar was punished for heading the ball onto his arm – a grievance manager Philippe Clement has recently been vocal about.

Rangers’ Fabio Silva, who spent two seasons with Benfica as a youth player, drives with the ball

Dujon Sterling delivered justice moments later by turning home Fabio Silva’s clever low cross but belligerent Benfica refused to be denied, and drew level for the second time when Connor Goldson hopelessly put through his own net in the 67th minute.

Clement’s Gers will host the Primeira Liga’s second-placed side at Ibrox in a week’s time, with the tie delicately poised, for a place in the quarter-finals of the competition.

How Rangers twice surrendered lead

Much of the pre-match talk was around Clement’s limited options in attack. He was without the services of four injured wingers – Abdallah Sima, Scott Wright, Rabbi Matondo and Oscar Cortes – albeit the latter is not in the European squad.

With Ross McCausland only fit to start on the bench, it meant no natural width in attack.

It was much to Clement’s joy, then, that returning midfielder Lawrence gave the visitors a dramatic early lead with a well-worked header, nodding Mohamed Diomande’s lofted cross from wide left emphatically past Anatoliy Trubin.

Rangers' Tom Lawrence, right, is congratulated after scoring his side's opening goal
Rangers’ Tom Lawrence, right, is congratulated after scoring his side’s opening goal

Jack Butland then made a double save, first from Neres and then from striker Arthur Cabral from the loose ball, although his effort had been partially blocked by Souttar.

However, after VAR Marco Fritz intervened following another Benfica corner, the Gers defender was adjudged by German referee Tobias Stieler to have nudged the ball with his arm as he defended the delivery, allowing Di Maria to send Butland the wrong way with an assured penalty.

Angel Di Maria was the difference maker for Benfica, having a hand in both goals
Angel Di Maria was the difference maker for Benfica, having a hand in both goals

There was more first-half drama to come in the final minute of the five added when Sterling stole in to convert a deflected Silva cross from close range – a restorative moment of justice, given the harshness of the penalty call.

Benfica were then level again midway through the second period when Di Maria floated a relatively harmless free-kick towards the Rangers goal and Goldson stretched to clear but inadvertently steered it past Butland.

The return leg promises more thrills and spills but Rangers will look to complete the job on home turf, an arena they have only lost in once under Clement.

Clement: Close to writing history

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Rangers boss Philippe Clement reflects on the 2-2 draw away to Benfica in the first-leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement:

“We were really close to making this miracle, the first team ever in the Europa League to win here.

“It is a pity to get a penalty against us like that, it is really an unlucky situation, the ball drops and John doesn’t see it and it drops on his arm. That is really unlucky.

“We were really close, we had two opportunities with Fabio (Silva) and Cyriel (Dessers) to make it 3-1, it would have changed a lot in this game but I am really proud of my team.

“They showed character, personality and solidarity also with the ball we scored two really good goals.

“I am really someone who is demanding but I cannot give more than what they gave today. They gave their all and also, the guys who came in.

“We missed a lot of players in the offensive position so other players had to do the job. I am very happy with Fabio and Dujon.

Rangers' Dujon Sterling is congratulated after scoring his side's second goal
Rangers’ Dujon Sterling is congratulated after scoring his side’s second goal

“We need to continue like this. If we keep this mentality that they have been showing in the last couple of months it could be an amazing season.”

Asked if Rangers now have the advantage in the tie, the Belgian boss said: “It’s only an advantage that it’s at Ibrox. If our fans are on top of it from the first second until the last second then they can give a lot of energy to the team.

“But we stay realistic about the qualities of Benfica. You guys wrote this week about the difference in the transfer budgets and that’s the reality. If we could eliminate this team I think it would be a huge, huge thing.

“I can only ask for my players to give their best and to show that they have shown tonight again on Thursday.”

Opta: Destined to draw?

Rangers' Tom Lawrence, right, is congratulated after scoring his side's opening goal
Rangers’ Tom Lawrence, right, is congratulated after scoring his side’s opening goal

  • All three of the meetings between Benfica and Rangers have ended in a draw (2-2, 3-3 & 2-2). It’s the most Benfica have ever faced a single opponent in European football with 100% of the results ending as a draw.
  • Tom Lawrence’s opening goal (6:32) is the second-earliest goal Benfica have ever conceded in the Europa League and the earliest since November 2020.
  • Rangers’ Conor Goldson has now scored three own goals in the Europa League, the most of any player in the competition’s history.

What’s next for Benfica and Rangers?

Benfica return to Portuguese league action on Sunday when they face Estoril Praia; kick-off 8.30pm.

Rangers, meanwhile, head to Hibernian for the Scottish Cup quarter-finals on Sunday; kick-off 5.30pm.

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