Raul Jimenez saves Benfica’s blushes against Astana
Raúl Jiménez scored twice to bring Benfica back from the dead Wednesday night, the Mexican’s goals robbing Astana of a chance to make history with a first-ever Champions League triumph at their Astana Arena in Kazakhstan.
Patrick Twumasi and Marin Anicic had given Astana a first-half lead but the hosts ultimately had to settle for a 2-2 draw after Jiménez gave Benfica a first-half lifeline, then produced the equalizer with 18 minutes to play.
The result may be enough to see the Portuguese side into the knockout stage, but they require an Atletico Madrid win over Galatasaray later in the evening to clinch their place. If the Turkish club prevails in Madrid, all three teams would be alive for a qualifying spot from Group C on the final match night.
The draw, Astana’s third straight at home, eliminated them from any possible Champions League knockout stage play, but they remain alive for a Europa League place depending on the result later in Madrid and their own performance in Turkey on the final night.
It was a dream first half for the hosts although when Jiménez met a cross from Jonas five minutes before the interval, burying a seven-yard header to the near right post, he gave Benfica the lift they needed stride back into a game they always struggled to get under control.
Before that Astana had made the most of their opportunities to build their 2-0 lead in the first 31 minutes.
Astana’s captain from the Central African Republic, Foxi Kethevoama, was involved in both goals for the Champions League debutants. He led an 18th-minute attack down the left from which Twumasi could have scored at the far post. A minute later the Ghanaian striker met Junior Kabanga’s cross as Benfica failed to clear the originial danger.
Next, Kethevoama delivered a slicing free kick that nicked off the back of Anicic and past Julio Cesar, the Bosnian having slipped past the defenders who failed to head away the set piece and paid full price.
Without ever looking like the famous side they are, Benfica got the needed result when Jiménez struck again, in the 73rd minute. The touch onto an Andre Almeida cross from the right was far from pretty, but he got just enough on it to beat Eric before the ball hit the far post and settled into the net.