Benfica punches ticket to quarterfinals

Benfica reached the Champions League quarterfinals by beating Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 on Tuesday from goals by Maxi Pereira and Nelson Oliveira.

Benfica advanced 4-3 on aggregate, reaching the last eight for the first time in six years.

Pereira leveled the aggregate score in first-half injury time, driving home from Axel Witsel’s back-heeled pass. Oliveira, a late substitute, scored his first goal in the competition on the break in added time of the second half.

The Russian champions clung to their slim advantage from the first leg and made little impression at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon. The home team provided most of the flair and scoring chances against a largely outplayed Zenit team that had never previously come this far in the tournament.

”In the first half we had to clamp them down, and we did,” Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said. ”In the second half, we had to draw them out to get some space on the break, and we did that too.”

Benfica, back-to-back European champions in 1961 and ’62, has lost just one of its past 20 European home games. It finished top of Group C, which included Manchester United, to reach the tournament’s knockout phase.

Even so, Benfica was winless in its past four games, and surrendered the Portuguese league lead to FC Porto last weekend.

Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, who missed the first leg through injury, pounced to his right in the 15th to keep out a shot from Bruno Cesar. Five minutes later, Pereira’s low shot spun across the face of the goal as the home team set the early pace.

The visitor’s first real threat came just before the interval as a series of defensive blunders allowed Roman Shirokov, scorer of two goals in the first leg, to test Artur. It was one of Zenit’s few goal attempts.

The second half was livelier as Zenit replaced midfielder Vladimir Bystrov with striker Danko Lazovic, who was slicker in attack.

The best chances fell to Benfica, though, and the hosts enjoyed a spate of late opportunities.

Center back Jardel should have scored when he was unmarked for a free header in the 55th. Top Portuguese league scorer Oscar Cardozo tapped just wide on the break in the 70th, and shot straight at Malafeev five minutes later.