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Benfica qualify for the Champions League Group Stage

Benfica qualify for the Champions League Group Stage

 Benfica, despite a scare in the opening minutes of the game, virtually cruised into the group stage after a 4-1 away victory over PAOK.

PAOK were the side that started more brightly and with the greater intensity, and earned themselves a free-kick right on the edge of the box after a direct run from Pelkas.

And PAOK very nearly took the lead just a few minutes later, but for an excellent block by Ruben Dias that narrowly put the ball past the post.

Benfica, struggled to get a foot hold on the game on the opening 15 minutes, and PAOK capitalised, using a smart free-kick to find the opening goal, with the ball ending up at the feet of Mauricio who calmly played the ball across the face of goal, giving Prijovic the simple task of slotting the ball in the back of the net.

And they continued to dominate for the prevailing minutes, having a couple of chances to even double their lead but for some solid defending.

However, perhaps against the run of play, Benfica made the most of their limited chances when, from a corner, Pizzi delivered a glorious cross which found the head of Jardel, who thumped the ball into the bottom corner, past the onlooking goalkeeper.

Having already cancelled out PAOK's away goal after just 20 minutes of football, Benfica settled down a bit and grew into the game, and it was clumsiness from PAOK that led to the third goal of the game before the half hour mark was even reached.

A headed backpass to the PAOK's keeper, Paschalakis, was overhit, sending him scrambling to keep it from going off for a corner. Stretching to keep it on play, the ball then spilt from his hands and fell to Cervi, who the keeper tripped to the ground in an attempt to regain possession of the ball, causing the referee to immediately point to the spot.

Salvio was the man entrusted with the task of putting the away side in front, despite the fact that Pizzi - who had already converted a penalty in the first leg of the tie - was on the pitch, and he just about squeezed it home off the inside of the post having sent the keeper the wrong way.

A huge goal in the context of the tie, meaning PAOK needed to find two goals in the next 65 minutes to save their Champions League dreams - a competition they have never made the group stage of in their entire history.

They had a chance to respond quickly, fom another free-kick which was whipped in and headed on, only stopped from finding the back of the net for to the strong hand of Benfica goakeeper Vlachodimos.

Benfica started to dominate though, and only due to the goakeeper scrambling back to his goal line did Gedson Fernandes not extend Benfica's lead further, before Seferovic's dipping header just went over the bar.

However, Benfica didn't need to wait long for their third of the night, after Cervi, on the left-hand side, pulled the ball back to the free-scoring Pizzi on the edge of the box, who stroked the ball calmly into the bottom corner of the net, past the outstretched hand of Paschalakis, making PAOK's hopes of progression even slimmer. It meant the Greek's now needed to find the back of the net another three times - at least - if they wanted to make the main stage of Europe's most prestigious competition.

Having gone into half time 4-2 down on aggregate, the last thing PAOK needed was to concede an early goal, yet just a couple of minutes after the restart, Jardel was hauled to the ground from a corner kick, leading to Benfica bring awarded their second penalty of the day. 

And it was Salvio again who stepped up to the spot, again only just squeezing the ball into the back of the net, on this occasion opting to go down the middle, seeing his strike only just about find the back of the net after the keeper's outstretched foot made contact with the ball. However, untidy or not, Benfica had their fourth goal of the night and fifth of the tie, only further cementing their place in the Champions League group stage.

PAOK, however, remained something of a threat, with goalscorer Prijovic striking the crossbar with a powerful header. Another so near, so far moment for the Greek club.

Benfica, however, were the side to qualify, and made it into the group stage for a ninth consecutive season. 

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