Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nurnberg 2 - Benfica 2 Into the final 16

Benfica is through to the round of 16 in the Uefa Cup with a 3-2 aggregate. The 2-2 scoreline is somewhat misleading, as Benfica benefited from a heavy dose of luck to get past the 16th place(!!!) side of the German Bundesliga. If you look at the picture above you can very easily apply the expression "a picture is worth a thousand words" to how Benfica made it through.

Benfica's starting 11

Quim in goal. Luis Felipe, Luisao, Edcarlos and Leo on defense. Petit and Katsouranis
in front of defense. Maxi, Rui Costa and Assis supported Makukula.

From the 20 players, 2 players did not suit up, as UEFA rules only allow 18, Moreira and Rodriguez were left out by Camacho. As for the starting 11, I have to question Camacho's choice in going with Makukula up front. In my preview i offered an explanation why Cardozo is a better option than Makukula for a game like this, but apparently, what makes sense to me and to many doesn't always make sense to Camacho. Cardozo plays a lot better with his feet and would have been the ideal player to play in a game like this, Makukula struggled to control the ball and to pass the ball in conditions to the oncoming midfielders.

Benfica started the game well, circulating the ball between their sectors and even being the more dominating team for the first 15 minutes. Benfica knew that Nurnberg was going to come out strong, but did well to hold the Germans at bay by keeping posession.
Half way through the first half the Germans seem to have sorted out the markings and appeared to want to take control of the game. Rui Costa, very closely watched could do very little in Benfica's transition, which had in Assis their ball carrying man. The defense had a few shaky moments but was able to keep the danger away from Quim's goal.
With the Germans marking tight in the midfield, Benfica resorted to the long ball once again, breaking any type of game thread they had up until that point. The Germans did assume control of the game for the rest of the half but were only able to create one clear chance of danger in front of the Benfica goal, with Charisteas putting the ball over Quim's goal. The best opportunity of the half for Benfica came from a Katsouranis low shot that passed very close to the post.

At half-time, Benfica was doing what they needed to do, but some of the difficulties they had in the last 15 minutes of the first half, could only spell trouble if they weren't to come out for the second half with a different mentality and an increase in playing performance.

"Lackadaisical" is probably the word that best describes how Benfica came out for the second half. Knowing that once again Nurnberg would come out strong, Benfica picked up right where they left off at the end of the half. Without the capability to control the game and its tempo, Benfica strugled against a Nurnberg side that came out of the locker room confident that they could overcome the 1 goal deficit. Much of that confidence coming from the lack of commanding play from Benfica.
Nurnberg "grew" in the game and would get the goal which tied the aggregate in the 58th minute. After a hesitation play from Benfica's defense, letting the ball, bounce in front of them, Charisteas found himself in Quim's face, and put away the easy goal. The goal didn't come as a surprise as Benfica's decrease in play justified the host's going ahead.
8 minutes later after an incredible miss by the defense and an even more incredible "gift" from Luis Felipe, Nurnberg scored their second goal to put themselves ahead on the aggregate, It was rock bottom for Benfica. After giving up the goal which tied the aggregate, Benfica now saw themselves down, and without arguments to overplay a ecstatic Nurnberg, with an equally ecstatic 40,000 behind them.
Camacho made a double substitution in the 70th minute, subbing in Cardozo and Sepsi for Edcarlos and Maxi, respectively. Cardozo joined the attack, while Sepsi went to the left wing. It wasn't too long before the two men that had just came in combined for a great chance. Sepsi made a subliminal pass to Cardozo, behind the defense, and Cardozo in front of the goalie missed Benfica's clearest opportunity up until that point.
With Cardozo on the field, Benfica became more dangerous, and looked for a goal with urgency. Sensing that urgency, Camacho subbed in DiMaria with Assis, in hopes DiMaria could provide a spark out on the wing. Cardozo would redeem himself in the 89th minute when he took advantage of a loose ball the Nurnberg defense couldn't clear and fired a bouncing volley into the far side of goal to put Benfica up on the aggregate. Lady luck smiled on Benfica, and with 2 minutes + added time, Benfica was back in control. Benfica would eventually put Nurnberg's hopes away when they scored their second goal, already in added time. Benfica took advantage of the all out attack by Nurnberg to create a 3-V-2 breakway that DiMaria finished by dribbling around the goal. It was the end of Nurnberg's dream and another breath of fresh air for Benfica, who were through to the round of 16.

Deservedly or not is another question. It's sad when Benfica has the difficulty they had against a team that is fighting relegation in the German Bundesliga. The lack of ambition to put away the game in the first leg, combined with an equally poor performance tonight, could have very well have dictated Benfica's elimination from the Uefa Cup. Instead, luck was on our side and put us through.

Camacho's choices puzzle me more and more, to the point that i question my own understanding of the game, but from talking and reading many fellow "Benfiquistas" i have realized that i haven't lost my mind and it's Camacho who is starting to "smell".
I have been a defender of his ever since he arrived, using the fact that he didn't set up the team, he didn't prepare the season, and the squad is full of players that perhaps he wouldn't have chosen. The other "excuse" i have used to give Camacho the benefit of the doubt is the unbalance that currently exists on the squad. But when he makes the decisions he makes it becomes harder and harder to defend him.
With tonight's win Camacho avoided a potential hostile situation, with Benfica supporters, who would have surely made an appearance upon the team's arrival in Lisbon, to show their displeasure.

Next are Spaniards Getafe, a team that is having a great domestic campaign in La Liga and that will be a much stronger side than Nurnberg.

foto Credits - Getty Images


Starting11 said...

How badly do you want a Benfica-Sporting matchup in the UEFA Cup? I can't find the complete draw to find out if they match up before the final. Do you know?

Fumas said...

to be honest with you, i haven't even thought about it..but it would be interesting -
They will draw again once the teams have qualified for the quarters -and that drawing will establish the final bracket.

Starting11 said...

K thanks, I didn't realize they'd draw again. Since they had this bracket figured out prior to the round of 16, i figured the whole thing was done.
It would be great though...

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