Benfica booked their place in the Portuguese cup quarter-finals with a 3-0 victory over Real Sport Clube at the Estádio do Restelo on Wednesday night. Real offered some stubborn resistance in the first half, before Kostas Mitroglou broke the deadlock shortly after the break with a point-blank header from Andrija Živković's near-post corner. The Greek striker then doubled the Eagles' advantage from the penalty spot, after Gonçalo Guedes was felled in the box. Raúl Jiménez added a third to continue his fine goalscoring form, netting just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Following the win, Rui Vitória paid tribute to Benfica's opponents, who play their football in the Campeanato de Portugal, two divisions below the Primeira Liga.
"(It was) mission accomplished from the team, that had the responsibility to win. I want to start by giving a word of appreciation to Real because they complicated our task in the first half of the match. These games serve to demonstrate the quality that there is in our football in the lower leagues. In the first half we had a lower tempo than we wanted, (but) in the second we scored three goals and it was an entirely deserved victory."
Jonas had been hotly tipped to make his long-awaited comeback on Wednesday night, but the 32-year old did not even feature in Vitória's 20-man preliminary squad. So when can we expect to see the Brazilian back in a Benfica jersey?
"It is a rather perilous situation. It has to be (assessed) day by day, to observe the response that he will give and to not run (any) risks."
"We want him to re-appear in the best (possible) condition. Today he wasn't. It is a special situation."
One player that did return to the fray was vice-captain Jardel, who started the match to make his first appearance since September. The Brazilian defender admitted that it was a great relief to get back on the pitch.
"I'm very happy with my return. It was a difficult period... I went practically three months without doing what I like most - without playing - and (now) I'm happy. (But) the most important (thing) was the victory and the progress to the quarter-finals."
The quarter-final draw takes place at 15:00 on Tuesday 20th December, and the matches themselves will be played between the 17th and 19th of January. Benfica's possible opponents are Sporting, Chaves and Estoril from the Primeira Liga, and Académica, Leixões and Sporting da Covilhã from the Segunda Liga. Vilafranquense, the only remaining representatives of the Campeanato de Portugal, will compete with Vitória de Guimarães on Thursday night for the last place in the quarter-final draw. But who would Jardel prefer to face in the next round?
"This is not for us to decide... we have to be focused on our work and to prepare ourselves for the opponent that comes, whoever it may be."
Victor Lindelöf (20 appearances), Luisão (15 apps) and Lisandro López (11 apps) have all been used regularly by Rui Vitória this season, while Benfica B's Branimir Kalaica is regarded as a star of the future. This competition in central defence can only benefit the club, according to Jardel.
"They have all been doing very well. We have a very balanced squad with five central defenders of great quality."
"It's the boss who decides, and whoever plays will always be ready to help the team to achieve (its) objectives."
19-year old left-back Yuri Ribeiro made his competitive debut for Benfica against Real, after a productive season in which he has excelled for Benfica B, and made his first appearances for Rui Jorge's Portugal under-21 side. With Álex Grimaldo an alleged target for Manchester City, and Eliseu's contract set to expire in the summer, the youngster may not have to wait long for a more permanent promotion to the first team. In the opinion of Jardel, Ribeiro was fully deserving of his opportunity on Wednesday night.
"He's a kid that has been growing with every day that passes, he has trained with us, has played good games in the B team, and we have given him confidence. He showed that he was ready and played a great game (tonight)."