LONDON: Benfica captain Nicolas Otamendi said reaching the Champions League group stage was an “objective” after the two-time winners held onto a goalless draw in Tuesday’s second-leg at PSV Eindhoven, despite playing the final hour with 10-men.
The Portuguese side defended superbly following Lucas Verissimo’s red card after winning the first leg 2-1 last week to return to the Champions League elite after a one-year absence.
“The truth is that at the start we had chances against us. Then we were more solid,” Otamendi told RMC Sport. “We’re growing a solid squad and we’ll need it as we’ll be in a lot of competitions. We’ve just fulfilled the first objective. Now we’ll rest and be ready for the competition.”
Swiss champions Young Boys joined them after a 3-2 victory at Ferencvaros secured a 6-4 overall win against the Hungarian title holders and Swedish champions Malmo followed in their footsteps despite a 2-1 loss at Bulgaria’s Ludogorets as they qualified 3-2.
PSV coach Roger Schmidt made six changes from Saturday’s 4-1 league win over Cambuur as Ivory Coast’s Ibrahim Sangare replaced of the injured Davey Propper in midfield.
Schmidt’s counterpart Jorge Jesus rewarded left-back Alejandro Grimaldo with a starting berth after he scored in the weekend’s victory at Gil Vicente.
A tight opening half an hour was sparked into life by Verissimo’s red card. The centre-back was shown a second yellow after elbowing Cody Gakpo as the pair attempted to head the ball.
PSV’s best chance of the first half fell to Noni Madueke but the English teenager’s curling effort skimmed past the far post.
Schmidt’s side continued to dominate after the break but found could not break down the Portuguese defence, including 33-year-old Argentina centre-back Otamendi, despite vocal home support.
With the away goals rule no longer in place this season, PSV — the 1988 European Cup winners against Benfica in the final — missed a string of chances to force extra time with veteran Israel striker Eran Zahavi hitting the crossbar from three metres with the goal at his mercy in the 62nd minute.
Despite controlling possession and shots on target from Andre Ramalho, Sangare and two from replacement Yorbe Vertessen, PSV were unable to beat Benfica’s stubborn goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos.
Ferencvaros fell behind to Young Boys on the night early on to a Cedric Zesiger header and then went level on aggregate after Henry Wingo and Ryan Mmaee hit back before Christian Fassnacht put Young Boys back in the driving seat.
The Hungarians did themselves no favours when Aissa Laidouni was sent off for a second bookable foul in the 64th minute before Young Boys’ United States forward Jordan Siebatcheu saw his penalty saved. Late substitute Felix Mambimbi struck in stoppage time to seal Young Boys’ progress.
Young Boys coach David Wagner, the former US international, will lead his team back into the Champions League less than one year after being fired by Schalke 04 during a Bundesliga-record winless run of games.
Malmo’s Serbian midfielder Veljko Birmancevic has been a star of the Swedish champions’ progress through four qualifying rounds. His fourth goal in five games a free kick from distance was key despite the loss in Bulgaria.
Ludogorets, trailing 2-0 from the first leg in Sweden, had pulled one back through Anton Nedyalkov in the 10th minute before Birmancevic levelled on the night with a screaming long-range effort.
Pieros Sotirou restored the Bulgarian side’s hopes of advancing when he converted a penalty on the hour after Antonio Colak handled but the visitors held on in the closing stages.
Three more second-leg games are scheduled on Wednesday to complete the 32-team lineup for the groups. The draw will be made Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey.
PSV, Ludogorets and Ferencvaros switch across to the Europa League groups which will be drawn on Friday.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2021