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Benfica get the better of newcomers Astana

The Eagles were made to work hard by the debutants before Nicolás Gaitán and Kostas Mitroglou scored to ensure a victorious start in Group C.

Nicolás Gaitán and Kostas Mitroglou scored in the second half as Benfica got another UEFA Champions League campaign off to a victorious start at the expense of obdurate debutants Astana.

Astana, though, were far from overawed by the fact they were acting as trailblazers for Kazakhstani football. Stepping out at the venue of the 2014 final, Stanimir Stoilov’s side were content to cede possession to Benfica, defend in numbers and attempt to catch their experienced opponents on the break.

It was a tactic that worked for 51 minutes of the Group C contest. They negotiated the first half with little cause for alarm, their only moments of genuine concern coming when Jonas was twice thwarted by Nenad Erić, the second time after an unchallenged burst into the penalty area.
Stoilov introduced Aleksei Schetkin for lone striker Junior Kabananga at half-time, a change that almost paid off within a minute of the restart, the Astana No9 showing persistence to get in-between Jardel and Luisão and poke an effort against Júlio César’s right-hand post.

Benfica, however, made the breakthrough their domination of possession deserved, Gaitán surging on to Mitroglou’s pass and driving a shot past Erić. The deadlock broken, Rui Vitória’s men suddenly found chances a lot easier to fashion, the unmarked Mitroglou the next to threaten with a header from Nélson Semedo’s cross.

Mitroglou atoned for that miss with the clinching second just after the hour. On target twice at the weekend, the Greek international stole in ahead of Dmitri Shomko tap in Eliseu’s low delivery across goal.


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