Benfica’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League were dealt an almost fatal blow as they were defeated 2-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
Anthony Martial had a 14th minute penalty saved by Mile Svilar before a long-range strike from former Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matić hit the post and ricocheted off the unfortunate young goalkeeper to put the hosts ahead on the stroke of half-time. Daley Blind doubled the Red Devils’ lead with a second half penalty to condemn Rui Vitória's side to a fourth straight defeat in this season's tournament.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides and went close in the seventh minute when Andreas Samaris fired an effort just wide from outside the area.
Five minutes later, the Águias had a decent shout for a penalty when Pizzi was forcefully barged off the ball by Eric Bailly, but Lithuanian referee Gediminas Mazeika was unmoved.
Seconds later, the hosts were awarded a penalty of their own when Douglas was penalised for handball, after tumbling to the ground following a challenge from Martial. The ex-Monaco forward stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, but was denied by Svilar, who guessed correctly to palm the Frenchman's effort behind. In the process, the 18-year-old became the youngest player to save a penalty in the history of the Champions League.
In the 17th minute, the Encarnados nearly opened the scoring when Diogo Gonçalves cut inside to unleash a powerful strike that looked destined for the top corner, but David de Gea responded with a terrific save.
Twelve minutes later, the Red Devils went close when Romelu Lukaku's effort was palmed behind by Svilar at his near post.
Soon afterwards, Manchester United had another good opportunity when Martial's teasing cross was met by Lukaku, but the Belgian headed just over the bar.
United went in front just before the interval; ex-Benfica midfielder Matić hit a speculative strike from distance, which struck the inside of the post and rebounded off the helpless Svilar into the back of the net.
The hosts then had a great chance to double their lead in first-half stoppage time when Lukaku was put through on goal, but his effort was smothered behind by Svilar.
Benfica went close to drawing level in the 59th minute, after Gonçalves got the better of Chris Smalling, but the Portuguese youngster’s low strike was fabulously tipped behind by de Gea.
Five minutes later, the visitors could have equalised when Bailly's misplaced pass fell to Raúl Jiménez, but the Mexican's effort struck the outside of the post, when he probably should have scored.
The Red Devils won a second penalty in the 76th minute when substitute Marcus Rashford was sent tumbling in the area by a clumsy challenge from Samaris. After some debate as to who should take the latest spot-kick, Blind pulled rank and fired the ball down the middle to make it two.
With two minutes left on the clock, the Portuguese champions had a good chance to reduce the deficit when substitute Jonas found Eduardo Salvio with a cross, but the Argentine's header was directed straight at de Gea.
The result means that Manchester United remain top of Group A, and require just a point from their final two matches to progress to the last 16. Benfica stay bottom, still without a point, needing landslide victories in their two remaining fixtures to prevent almost certain elimination from the competition.
Benfica: Svilar, Douglas, Rúben Dias, Jardel, Grimaldo (Eliseu 64'), Salvio, Samaris, Fejsa, Pizzi (Jonas 78'), Gonçalves, Raúl (Seferović 74')
Manchester United: de Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Bailly, Blind, Matić, McTominay, Mata (Herrera 68'), Lingard (Mkhitaryan 46'), Martial (Rashford 75'), Lukaku
Goals: Svilar (o.g. 45'), Blind (pen 78')