MOSCOW, October 23 (RIA Novosti)
A first-half strike from Ari proved decisive Tuesday as Spartak Moscow beat Portugal's Benfica 2-1 at home to give their Champions League hopes a boost and put the visitors on the brink of an early exit.
All three goals were scored by Brazilians as Spartak came out on top in near-freezing conditions at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium, the scene of Russia's 1-0 win over Portugal earlier this month.
Spartak's first points of the campaign see the Russians go third in Group G, within a point of second-placed Celtic, with Benfica now last on one point from three games. Leaders Barcelona host Celtic later Tuesday.
"It was important to win so that we weren't put out of the fight in the Champions League today. The job's done," Spartak midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov said.
Rumors that coach Unai Emery's job was on the line in the game did not affect the team, the ex-Everton winger added.
"We concentrated on our game."
The pressure is now on Benfica to improve their Champions League performances in upcoming home games against Spartak and Celtic, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said.
"We've got two matches in Lissabon, where we can't make a mistake and need to win," he said, adding that the artificial surface had put his team off.
"We're not used to the artificial pitch," he said. "At the start we had a lot of unsuccessful passes."
Spartak started aggressively and were rewarded with a goal six minutes in when holding midfielder Rafael Carioca played the ball under Benfica goalkeeper Artur to end a move featuring clever layoffs from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Jose Manuel Jurado.
Carioca was at fault when Benfica equalized on 33 minutes, immobile at the near post as Eduardo Salvio swung in a near-post cross for Lima to power a header home.
Ari restored Spartak's lead on 40 minutes after Dmitry Kombarov found right-back Evgeny Makeev, who sent in a first-time low cross for the Brazilian forward to knock in, just 15 minutes after he had hit the underside of the bar.
The second half saw Benfica increase the pressure, but wasteful finishing and some ill-timed hesitation in the box cost the visitors an equalizer as Spartak held on.
Within seconds of the start, there was an attack from Spartak as Ari burst down the right flank and fed Diniyar Bilyaletdinov with a cross, but Benfica goalkeeper Artur was able to dive well to his left to parry the ball away.
Benfica had an early chance when the Spartak defense gave Rodrigo plenty of time and space on the edge of the box, but the Spaniard's powerful left-foot effort was tipped high and wide by third-choice goalkeeper Artem Rebrov.
Ari wasted an excellent opportunity on 24 minutes when he hit the underside of the crossbar with a close-range volley off a Jano Ananidze cross.
A clever corner routine could have yielded a goal for Spartak on 40 minutes when Kombarov, the only player to have featured in Russia's win over Portugal, charged into the box to meet a Jurado ball, but the wing-back struck his shot wide.
Early in the second half, Ari again missed a good chance from Ananidze's set-up play when the Brazilian's soft backheel was saved by Artur after Ananidze has dribbled through the Benfica defense.
Benfica missed a pair of good chances soon after, Salvio slicing wide after Makeev's poor attempt at a headed clearance left him free in the box, while a moment's hesitation cost Lima a second goal on 74 minutes by allowing Nicolas Pareja to block his shot in the box.
Rebrov got down well to save on 86 minutes as Benfica substitute Oscar Cardozo threatened.
Benfica host Spartak in the next round of games November 7.
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