Benfica secure late victory - and are seeded for the Europa League
Benfica were made to work as they took on a resilient AEK Athens side, scoring with just 2 minutes left on the clock to salvage a potentially crucial 3 points.
That is because, while victory was never going to be sufficient for the Portuguese side to make the next round of the Champions League, it was the least they could do to have any chance of being seeded for the Europa League first knockout round after Viktoria Plzen beat Roma in the earlier fixture.
Benfica had several chances to break the deadlock and pull in front, with the corner count increasing within the opening quarter.
However, Benfica’s best chance of the game came early on in the second half, when Seferovic connected with the ball in the box to header a powerful effort onto the top of the bar.
He had another chance just a few minutes later, shooting on the turn with a great deal of accuracy, but matched by the AEK Athens shot-stopper who calmly caught the ball.
Benfica continued to toil but failed to find a way through, clear-cut chances few and far between.
Their hopes of cracking the Greek defence were reignited with just three minutes of normal time remaining though, when Galanopoulos saw red, picking up his second yellow of the game when pulling back on the shirt of Gedson Fernandes on the edge of the box.
Having seen Cervi balloon an effort well over the bar from a similar position earlier on in the match, it was Grimaldo’s turn to have a go from a dead-ball situation, and he curled it beautifully beyond the AEK Athens keeper and into the back of the net, rescuing all three points for Benfica.
The victory also meant that Benfica did indeed become one of the four seeded Champions League sides in the Europa League first knockout round, squeezing into that fourth and final spot by virtue of Shakhtar Donetsk only managing to draw against Lyon.
The 3rd place table at the end of play looked as follows: