Benfica dreams again after Champions League win in Russia

    Benfica celebrates after winning in Russia

    Story highlights

    • Benfica qualifies for quarterfinals
    • Portuguese side beats Zenit 3-1 on aggregate
    • Wins 2-1 after 1-0 victory in home leg
    • Nicolás Gaitán and Talisca on target for Benfica

    (CNN)André Villas-Boas had mused that reaching the Champions League quarterfinals would be his "dream," but he and his Zenit St. Petersburg team were rudely awakened as two late Benfica goals sealed a momentous victory for the visitors on Wednesday.

    Beaten 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate, Zenit bowed out of European football's top club competition on an evening which took a decidedly Portuguese feel -- with the freezing cold weather being the notable exception.
      Zenit, after all, has been prodigious in its recruitment process in recent years as it bids to join football's top table.
      The Russian club possesses a sizable contingent sourced from warmer climes, not to mention a Portuguese manager -- and key men such as Ezequiel Garay, Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia were all once Benfica players.
      This, though, was not to be its year.
      Benfica held a slender 1-0 advantage after the first leg, and Zenit's uphill task eventually told.
      Though former Porto forward Hulk restored parity for the home team with 20 minutes to play, Villas Boas' expensively-assembled side could not go the distance.

      A photo posted by @uefachampionsleague on

      Nicolás Gaitán's 85th-minute equalizer came out of nothing.
      As Raul Jimenez's 30-yard snapshot was palmed unconvincingly onto the crossbar, the impressive Gaitán stole in and gratefully nodded home the rebound, dispelling any lingering Zenit hopes in an instant.
      It was a bitter blow for the home side, which had been poised until then for extra time and a chance to become the first Russian side to make the quarterfinals since CSKA Moscow six years ago.
      As it was, with Zenit pushing forward more out of desperation than expectation in the dying embers of the contest, Benfica substitute Talisca made it 2-1 in added time, adding gloss to the win for the traveling side.
      As the ball crossed the line with the referee's whistle inches from his lips, the Benfica bench erupted in celebration -- the game was up.
      The Portuguese league leader takes its place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
      With exciting young talent from their academy like the 18-year-old Rentato Sanches in its side, the European champions of 1961 and 1962 can dream again.
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