By Scott Taylor
Sergi Canos was again on the scoresheet, but he couldn’t help Liverpool U19s qualify for the quarter-finals as they lost 2-1 to Benfica in the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League. The Spaniard converted his chance moments after a fifth minute header from Hildeberto Pereira gave Benfica the lead. However, it wasn’t to be as a strike from Diogo Goncalves won it for the hosts in the 74th minute at the Caixa Futebol Campus.
The Portuguese side dominated from the outset and tested Neil Critchley’s side after just four minutes. After promising build-up play, Gilson Costa’s cross from the right-hand side found Pereira in the box, but his header went agonisingly wide of the target.
One minute later, Pereira had an effort fly the either side of Fulton’s post. After taking it past centre-backs Joe Maguire and Dan Cleary, the Benfica striker flashed a drive past Fulton to give the hosts the lead.
The opener did not rock the Reds’ confidence. Neil Critchley’s side found themselves back in it through Sergi Canos. Bursting through the Benfica half, the in-form starlet breezed past Joao Lima and his low drive from on the edge of the area cannoned in off the post to level the scores.
The end-to-end action in sweltering conditions continued moments later. Goalscorer Pereira was again causing the Liverpool defence problems, but this time his shot was dragged wide of the post.
Cleary almost made amends for his lapse of concentration for the first goal, when he combined with fellow Irishman Alex O’Hanlon, but his 20th minute header went wide of the mark as the game hung in the balance.
In the 23th minute, Goncalves combined with goalscorer Pereira, but it looked like Ryan Fulton brought him down when he was through on goal. However, he was booked for simulation after replays showed to tried to trick the officials.
The final chance of an action-packed half fell on 27 minutes. Harry Wilson’s free-kick took a wicked deflection, but was kept out mainly due to the agiliry of Benfica goalkeeper Andre Ferreira.
There was a theme of both teams interchanging chances throughout the first half, and this was no different in the second half. Fulton had to be at full stretch to deny Costa’s header, after Pereira caused all sorts of problems.
It was Ferreira who had to be at full stretch this time as the Reds looked to go ahead for the first time in the match. He superbly denied Welsh international Wilson at the near post after good link-up between Canos and Cameron Brannagan.
Benfica then started to assert more pressure on the Liverpool defence and start to dominate the game. Firstly, Goncalo Rodrigues’ strike went just over Fulton’s crossbar before Joao Carvalho’s ambitious lob beat the Reds goalkeeper, but didn’t beat Maguire, who cleared.
The pressure finally was too much for Liverpool to handle in the 74th minute when the Eagles took the lead. Good link up play between Rodrigues and Goncalves meant that the latter latched onto it and fired beyond the reach of Fulton, much to the delight of the home support.
Like the first goal, Canos tried to respond quickly and take Benfica for surprise. However, the former Barcelona man danced his way through the Benfica defence only to be denied by the legs of Ferreira, who dived the opposite way.
Liverpool had one final effort in injury time, but Ferreira remianed solid as the Reds crash out of the UEFA Youth League at the last 16 stage.
Liverpool XI: Fulton, Whelan, Cleary, Maguire, Hart, Chirivella, O’Hanlon, Brannagan, Canos, Sinclair, Wilson.