Benfica prodigy Joao Felix’s startling talent was not enough to prevent Thursday’s chastening Europa League quarter-final exit at Eintracht Frankfurt.
The svelte 19-year-old Juventus and Manchester United target became the competition’s youngest-ever hat-trick scorer in last week’s 4-2 first-leg win for the Portuguese. But the forward – shunted from the centre and onto the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation – experienced a quiet night at PSD Bank Arena.
Serbia winger Filip Kostic’s rebound, from an offside position, and midfielder Sebastian Rode’s sharp finish earned a 2-0 triumph on the night. This sent the Bundesliga’s fourth-placed club through to the last-four on away goals, where they’ll meet Chelsea.
Here is a review of the coveted forward’s ineffectual display:
Key passes: 1
Pass accuracy: 69.2 per cent
Dribbles completed: 0
Benfica had appeared strong favourites to make a first UEL semi since 2011 after a dominant opening stanza and run of six wins from their last seven matches in all competitions.
Progression was first threatened by Kostic’s follow up on 36 minutes. The video-assistant referee’s absence was glaring, with overzealous protests causing head coach Bruno Lage’s dismissal.
The 2-0 victory that Eintracht dreamed of then came to fruition when Rode slotted in on 67 minutes after superb footwork from the edge of the penalty area by Croatia winger Ante Rebic.
Benfica substitute Eduardo Salvio would rattle the near post late on, but they couldn’t save themselves.
Flashes of quality
Felix’s innate dribbling ability and appreciation of space still showed from the left wing – the only issue was that he has such little opportunity to do it.
The teenager had ripped Eintracht apart as a false nine in Lisbon. Why Lage felt the need to change a winning formula – deploying game Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic on his own up top – will require searching examination and explanation.
A wonderful feint and drive into the area just after the interval showcased Felix at his best, highlighting the threat on the counter-attack Lage, surely, strived for. So, too, a header that just went over soon after.
There just wasn’t enough.
A lack of experience
An obvious question emerges – could Felix have showed more?
Switzerland midfielder Gelson Fernandes and Japan’s Makoto Hasebe both rattled into him during the early stages. To his credit, Benfica’s latest bright prospect did not appear cowed by this.
Instead, the game passed him by from the wing. From Benfica players who featured for the entire 90 minutes, his 40 touches was the second least and 26 passes was the lowest recorded.
This could be interpreted as a diligent undertaking of Lage’s tactics. Or it could be viewed as a youngster who did not think on his feet and work out how to grasp the mettle.
Felix was far from culpable – his two attempts on goal was the joint most for Benfica.
All football careers are undulating. Even those of players blessed with divine gifts.
Felix’s strong mentality should see this poor night utilised as a formative experience on the road to superstardom.
Toby Alderweireld went from “hell to heaven” as Tottenham snatched a Champions League semi-final place on a night of VAR drama at Manchester City.
Spurs thought their hopes of reaching the last four had been dashed at the last moment when Raheem Sterling struck deep into injury time of a pulsating quarter-final at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
But the goal was disallowed following a VAR review and Spurs, despite still trailing 4-3 on the night, prevailed courtesy of the away goals rule in a 4-4 aggregate draw.
“It was from hell to heaven,” said Spurs defender Alderweireld. “I was thinking we can’t concede in that moment, we knew what we had thrown (away).
“I think we were a little bit angry in that moment but then we saw the ref going back saying, ‘Offside’.
“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it on the pitch. For the neutral fans it was an unbelievable night.”
The drama and VAR interventions were not just restricted to the closing moments in what was a classic encounter.
Sterling opening the scoring inside four minutes but Spurs were leading by the 10th minute courtesy of a quickfire Son Heung-min double. City equalised through Bernardo Silva a minute later and were leading again after 21 minutes as Sterling scored his second.
Sergio Aguero put City in command of the tie after the break but Fernando Llorente bundled in another Spurs goal after 73 minutes, awarded only after a lengthy VAR check for suspected handball.
Sterling thought he had settled the affair in the most dramatic fashion but City’s jubilation quickly turned sour and Tottenham were left to celebrate a first European Cup semi-final appearance since 1962.
“It is a historical day for Spurs,” said Alderweireld, 30, who came through the Academy ranks at semi-final opponents Ajax. “The mentality of the team, even after going behind, was unbelievable.
“To go through against the team of the moment in City was unbelievable for us. I think we can be proud of ourselves.”
On returning to Amsterdam, Alderweireld said: “I think (it’s like) going back home. I had a wonderful time there.
“It is an unbelievable semi-final for us and we know it is a top team to beat.”
Bernardo Silva put on a brave face and tried to switch focus back to the title race following Manchester City’s Champions League heartache.
City saw their hopes of conquering Europe and winning an unprecedented quadruple this season end in a dramatic quarter-final clash against Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
City thought they had snatched a 5-3 victory, which would have taken them through 5-4 on aggregate, through Raheem Sterling in injury time but his strike was ruled out by VAR.
Instead Spurs went through to a last-four clash with Ajax, despite a 4-3 loss on the night, courtesy of the away goals rule in a 4-4 aggregate draw.
“We are very disappointed,” said Silva, one of City’s scorers in a sensational game that opened with five goals inside a pulsating first 21 minutes.
“Obviously we wanted to qualify for the semi-finals. We’re disappointed with the result and the way we conceded the goals but I think the way the team played was very good. It was fantastic, especially after (being) 2-1 behind.
“It’s not a very good feeling to have but that’s football. Now we have to focus on the Premier League and FA Cup. We will have to forget about it and go for the competitions we are still in.”
City, beaten 1-0 in the first leg, levelled the tie when Sterling struck after four minutes but Spurs roared back with Son Heung-min scoring twice in quick succession. Silva then equalised and Sterling put City back in front in a frantic opening.
Sergio Aguero put City in command of the tie after the break but Fernando Llorente swung it back in Spurs’ favour when bundled in another goal from a corner after 73 minutes.
There was debate over whether the ball had hit Llorente’s arm before bouncing in off his hip but the Spaniard was given the benefit of the doubt after a lengthy VAR check.
VAR then came to Spurs’ rescue again in injury time after Sterling thought he had completed his hat-trick in the most dramatic fashion, ruling Aguero offside in the build-up.
Silva said: “I think VAR is a good thing because it helps the referee make better decisions, so no problems with the VAR.
“Obviously I have had the opportunity to watch the last goal from Tottenham and the ball hits the hand, no doubt about that, but the referee takes his decision and we have to respect that.”
This could still be a memorable season for City. They have already won the Carabao Cup and are through to the FA Cup final.
They will retain their Premier League title if they win their remaining five games, starting with another visit from Spurs on Saturday.
Silva said: “It’s not time for revenge, it’s time for another competition, time to keep us alive in the title race.
“We will try to win the game in the same way we did on Wednesday but knowing that we are playing against a very good team and that will make it difficult for us.”