Benfica took a massive step towards qualification for the Portuguese cup final by defeating Estoril 2-1 at the Estádio António Coimbra da Mota on Tuesday night. Kostas Mitroglou opened the scoring in the 36th minute when he pounced on Andrija Živković’s inviting cross. The home side took just five minutes to hit back, with ex-Porto striker Kléber converting his penalty after Eliseu had handled in the box. Mitroglou continued his incredible goalscoring form to net the winner in the 90th minute, although he looked to be offside from Franco Cervi’s cross.
The game took place on the 113th anniversary of the day that the club was founded by Cosme Damião and his colleagues, at the Farmácia Franco on the Rua de Belém. This gave the match added significance, according to head coach Rui Vitória:
"We wanted to win, also with it being the club's birthday. We came here to win and we were able to do it, completely deservedly. It was a one-sided game and we achieved what we wanted. We came to face a good opponent, but our thoughts were always on the victory. We committed a mistake or two, but the result was well-achieved.”
Quizzed about the legality of Mitroglou’s winning goal, Vitória replied that he had not yet had the opportunity to view a replay: "I still haven't seen anything, I came directly here... I cannot comment."
The second leg of the semi-final is scheduled for Wednesday 5th April at the Estádio da Luz. With two away goals in the bank, is qualification now a certainty?
"There is no such thing in football! Each game has a story. We took a good and important step (here), because we wanted to win. There is still a long time until the [second leg]. (Then there will be) a new story, but there is one thing I can guarantee: we will want to win the next game too."
Having appeared as a second-half substitute against Chaves last Friday, Jonas was not included in the matchday squad for the trip to Estoril. Vitória explained that this was merely a precautionary measure, with a string of important fixtures on the horizon.
"There was no setback, we didn't want to risk him. These are injuries that require great caution."
Álex Grimaldo and Ljubomir Fejsa remain on Benfica’s official injury list, where they will now be joined by Brazilian midfielder Filipe Augusto, who limped out of Tuesday’s game just 44 minutes into his full debut. On a positive note, Vitória revealed that Grimaldo and Fejsa were both recovering well.
"(They) are evolving favourably, but we have to wait. Those that played today gave a good performance."
The 46-year old also responded to speculation that Jonas is poised to sign a one-year contract extension: "It is not for me to reply. Our President knows perfectly (well) what he has to do. My players are who I want to work with, and I'm happy when they are settled."
Nélson Semedo was also interviewed after the Eagles’ latest cup victory, and he conceded that his team are now in a very strong positon ahead of the second leg.
"We knew that it would be difficult from the start... we played against a good team, at a historically difficult ground. The first half is done, (and) the second half remains... the game at the [Estádio da] Luz. At home, with the support of our fans, it is very difficult to beat us. But we think game by game... now it is (time) to relax and afterwards to think about Feirense."
Like his coach, Semedo declined to comment on Mitroglou’s contentious winner: "We always try to do our (work), to play football. What we want is to play football. The refereeing is a separate topic!"
The buccaneering right-back has started all 23 league games this season, but that run will come to an end against Feirense on Saturday, when he serves a one-match suspension. The Portuguese international gave his backing to whoever replaces him, with André Almeida and Pedro Pereira waiting in the wings.
"I'm out, another starts... it makes no difference. Whoever starts will be ready and will give a good response."
"We have a squad with 25 or 26 players and they are all prepared to play."
Semedo continues to be linked with a move away from Benfica, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich rumoured as the likeliest destinations. The player himself is happy to remain in Lisbon, although that may not be possible given the financial situation at the club.
"I'm completely focused on Benfica. I have a contract until 2021. I hope to remain here for many years and see out my career here."