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Mitroglou snatches win for Benfica

LISBON

Benfica pulled off a classic smash and grab job as they beat Borussia Dortmund 1-0 in their Champions League last 16 first leg on Tuesday.

Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou scored the only goal of the game, prodding home from close range at the second attempt just after half time after Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki stopped his initial effort.

Benfica goalkeeper Ederson, who has relegated former Brazil first choice shot-stopper Julio Cesar to the bench this season, was the star of the show making a slew of crucial saves.

But Dortmund will have many regrets after a wasteful performance, in particular from striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who had a torrid evening, missing three gilt-edged opportunities.

Dortmund had the first clear chance of the night on 10 minutes as French youngster Ousmane Dembele slipped Aubameyang in on goal, but the Gabon striker lifted his shot not only over Ederson but also the bar.

Dortmund were well on top in the early stages but poor control cost Raphael Guerreiro and Erik Durm when well placed to shoot. The visitors then fashioned a chance with Guerreiro picking out Dembele 10 yards from goal but reported Manchester United target Victor Lindelof bravely threw himself in front of the shot to deflect the ball behind for a corner.

Dortmund should have gone in front on 38 minutes when Benfica centre-back Ljubomir Fejsa dallied allowing Guerreiro to cross from the byline. But with Ederson stranded, Aubameyang was inches away from converting the ball into an empty net from two yards out.

Moments later, Ederson was a relieved man to see Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli wave away Dortmund protests after the goalkeeper clattered into Dembele on the edge of his box.

Having produced nothing in the first half, Benfica went in front three minutes into the second after Mitroglou was left unmarked two yards out to poke home Luisao’s header from a Pizzi corner.

Ederson saved a point-blank effort from Dembele inside the six yard box before Aubameyang lifted a carbon copy of his first half chance again just over the bar.  Ederson made smart stops to deny Marco Reus and then Lukasz Piszczek before Dortmund were given a lifeline when Fejsa handled a cross from Marc Bartra.

But Aubameyang’s miserable night continued with a woeful penalty stroked nonchalantly down the middle that the static Ederson merely punched clear.

Aubameyang was put out of his misery a few minutes later as coach Thomas Turchel replaced him with Andre Schuerle just past the hour mark.

Dortmund continued to press but Reus hooked a volley wide before Ederson showed lightening reactions to save one-handed from a Christian Pulisic volley that took a wicked deflection.

“I think we played better, especially in the first half, we had the better opportunities,” said Schuerrle, who came on for Aubameyang. “Especially with the penalty, we should have won.

“There is a return leg and we will show that we were clearly better then and go through. We were clear through on goal and things didn’t work out. Such days happen,” added the winger.

Aubameyang stepped up to take the 58th minute spot kick, having had an awful game up to that point, and sent his penalty straight at Ederson to cap a frustrating evening.

“Aubameyang is not fully fit after the African Nations Cup and his body language did not suggest that he would do better after giving away (missing) the penalty,” Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said of the forward.

Aubameyang’s country Gabon hosted the Jan 14-Feb. 5 Nations Cup finals but went out at the group stage.

“We ended up scoring a goal in a situation we had been working for,” said Benfica coach Rui Vitoria. “In order to play such teams one has to be prepared to suffer at the limit. We had our problems getting out of our own half to attack.

“Now we know what we have to do in the return leg. Scoring a goal there will have a huge impact,” the Portuguese said.

Agencies