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Cabral's stoppage time goal secures a spot for Benfica in Europa League playoffs

Arthur Cabral Benfica Arthur Cabral - The Canadian Press

SALZBURG, Austria (AP) — Arthur Cabral's backheel goal in stoppage time gave Benfica a 3-1 win over Salzburg in the Champions League on Tuesday, with the late strike securing the Portuguese club a spot in the Europa League playoffs.

Benfica needed to win by a margin of two goals or more to finish ahead of the Austrian side. Both teams finished with four points in Group D, with Benfica third and Salzburg fourth.

Salzburg beat Benfica 2-0 in the group-stage opener in September in Lisbon.

Both teams went into the game on Tuesday already unable to reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

Real Sociedad won the group after a 0-0 draw at second-place Inter Milan.

“We deserved the win," said veteran Benfica forward Ángel Di María, who was named the player of the match. "We’re working very well and we deserved this win for ourselves, our family and the fans. We’re still on the right track in Europe.”

Benfica had lost its first four group-stage games before earning a 3-3 home draw against Inter Milan in the previous round, when it led 3-0 at halftime.

“We fought for the fans and we always believed,” Benfica goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin said. “Unfortunately we didn’t stay in the Champions League but we fought for the Europa League and we did it.”

Cabral completed a cross by Fredrik Aursnes two minutes into stoppage time to score Benfica's decisive goal, back-flicking the ball into the net from close range. It was his 26th goal in UEFA competitions, and first in the Champions League.

“We deserved this goal and to be in the Europa League,” Benfica coach Roger Schmidt said.

The 35-year-old Di María had put Benfica ahead in the 32nd to become the second oldest Argentinian scorer in the Champions League, surpassing Lionel Messi, who found the net for Paris Saint-Germain in 2022. Javier Zanetti was 37 when he scored in Inter Milan's 4-3 win over Tottenham in 2010.

Di María made the assist as Rafa Silva added to the lead with a one-timer by the far post in first-half stoppage time, but Luka Sucic scored for Salzburg with a low shot from just outside the area in the 57th to keep the hosts with the Europa League spot until the late goal by Cabral.

Salzburg substitute Sékou Koita had a 75th-minute goal disallowed for offside.

“It’s really hard of course,” Salzburg defender Strahinja Pavlović said. “You lose the game, you lose everything in the last minute. It’s really hard, but it is what it is. That’s football.”


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