Champions League talk, Benfica vs. Beşiktaş

Updated: September 14, 2016

Beşiktaş played their first Champions League match since 2009 tonight and got a point away at the Estádio da Luz against SL Benfica: 1-1, thanks to an emphatic free-kick goal from Anderson Talisca.

Şenol Güneş had a few surprises in store with his starting eleven, although he had already hinted at it in Monday’s press conference: he started Vincent Aboubakar up top ahead of Cenk Tosun. A surprise because Cenk has already scored four league goals this season in just three matches, but not a surprise if you look at the psychology behind the decision: Aboubakar knows Benfica and actually scored against them this past season for FC Porto, the winner in a 1-2 victory at Estádio da Luz.


Şenol Güneş fielded the following starting eleven (from left to right starting at the top): Gökhan Inler, Atiba Hutchinson, Marcelo Guedes, Andreas Beck, Tolga Zengin, Ricardo Quaresma, Dusko Tosic, Vincent Aboubakar, Adriano Correia, Caner Erkin, Oguzhan Özyakup

Another somewhat surprising decision was starting Andreas Beck ahead of Gökhan Gönül who had played an excellent match over the weekend against Karabükspor. But a bit more understandable as Gökhan has only just returned to full fitness and two games in three days may have been a bit too much for him at this point.

And no surprise but to the dismay of pretty much every single Beşiktaş fan, Tolga Zengin once again started between the sticks ahead of Fabri who had impressed against Karabükspor with his footballing ability.

Going in to the game Benfica were hit hard by the injury bug, missing their two forwards Jonas and Kostas Mitroglou. The pair had provided Benfica with an incredible 85 goals last season (61 goals, 24 assists) and adding to that Raúl Jiménez and Rafa Silva were also ruled out with injuries, completely decapitating Benfica’s offence. Finally they also had to do without their arguably best defender: Jardel. Safe to say, Benfica were nowhere near at full strength.

Where a week ago a point would have probably satisfied everyone, a day before the game with the knowledge of all the players who would miss the game, hope started to grow for perhaps something more. Three points and hitting the ground running like Usain Bolt.

Both after just twelve minutes all those dreams were already shattered after a defensive mistake by Marcelo and another Tolga Zengin blunder. Was it going to be another one of those games? Another Sporting, another Club Brugge? It couldn’t be… still so much time was left on the clock.

But the football that Beşiktaş put on the pitch in the first half was far from inspiring, it didn’t look like we were going to break down Benfica’s sturdy organization.

Adding insult to injury Oguzhan Özyakup, the creative brain of the team, picked up an injury in the first half and had to be replaced at halftime. The man to replace him, Anderson Talisca, the man who Beşiktaş loaned from Benfica. Poetic justice almost dictates that he should become the man to turn the match around?

If he was, he’d have to wait longer than minute 56 however as he was denied a penalty by Serbian referee Mazic. It looked like the referee at first awarded the spotkick, but overruled his own decision seconds lates.

Regardless, Talisca immediatly made his presence felt and was clearly very motivated to show Benfica and coach Rui Vitoria that they made a mistake sending him out loan.

Throwing on Cenk Tosun as an extra striker was a good move by the coach, Beşiktaş managed to create a decent amount of pressure and created 2-3 good chances in the second half. That isn’t much but at this level that’s certainly not bad.

Cenk had a good opportunity after an excellent combination with Aboubakar, but he rifled it wide. Perhaps this does bode well for a striker partnership between the two though. Whereas Aboubakar looked to be on an island in the first half, when Cenk came on the pitch he also became much more active and received the ball more as he could drift away from that central forward position.

Having made a big mistake at the opening goal, Tolga Zengin may have redeemed himself to some people with a key save in the 84th minute after an incredible brainfart on the part of Ricardo Quaresma, who offered Benfica the 2-0 on a silver platter. But Tolga, actually made a crucial save and kept the Black Eagles in it.

Quaresma’s crosses weren’t on point tonight, his freekicks and corners did not create the danger the Black Eagles were looking for and in the second half Caner started taking more of the set-pieces and they were noticeably superior in quality.

Anderson Talisca stepped up and duly delivered with an emphatic free-kick equalizer deep in to added time

Anderson Talisca stepped up and duly delivered with an emphatic free-kick equalizer deep in to added time

Atiba Hutchinson nearly scored in the first minute of extra time on one of those Caner Erkin crosses but Benfica’s goalkeeper made Ederson made a heroic save.

It came down to the wire as Beşiktaş were awarded a freekick in the third minute of extra time after a clear handball 25 meters out.

It has probably been since the days of Sergen Yalçin, maybe Tümer Metin, but Beşiktaş hasn’t had a player capable of keeping his cool with a free-kick opportunity at such a crucial time in a match. Especially not at the grandest stage of them all, the UEFA Champions League.

Quaresma was standing around the ball, as he has pretty much done for almost every set-piece in this match. But fortunately it was Anderson Talisca who claimed the freekick and curled it to the right of goalkeeper Ederson and to the left of the post to score an absolutely clinical free-kick!

Without a doubt Talisca’s motivation played a key role in his second half performance, but we’ve also seen glances of his brilliance in the friendly against Gaziantepspor and the league match against Karabükspor this weekend.

With this goal Beşiktaş did not just win an all important point in a difficult away match but they may also have gained a “Kahraman”, a new hero. Only the best players step up at moments like these and Talisca showed with this goal that he has incredible potential and could be a very important player for the Black Eagles in the coming months.

The vast majority of Beşiktaş fans have had their fill of Tolga Zengin and after yet another big mistake in a European game tonight that number will only grow. Despite his important save late in the game, he put his team in a losing position. At this level, in the Chamipons League, where every mistake gets ruthlessly punished, you can not afford to have a liability like Tolga behind the sticks.

Unfortunately with the mistake coming so early on and the result ultimately ending on a positive note for the Black Eagles I’m sure that Şenol Güneş will once again find a way to justify him starting in the upcoming games. A shame really, given how good Fabri could be for the team. It’s not just that fans like myself are fed up with Tolga, it’s also that we now have a better option. When we had Cenk Gönen as our reserve goalkeeper, I preferred Tolga over Cenk despite Tolga’s flaws. But now that there is a clear better choice, that actually adds something to the team aswell with his excellent distribution… it’s incredibly frustating seeing Tolga start in such a big game, in the Champions League where millions of Euros can be earned. Where the difference between a win or a draw is a full million of those precious euros that our clubs needs so badly. Has Tolga cost us two points or won us one point tonight? That’s open for debate, but one thing is certain, he is not a secure pair of hands and he is not worthy of being the captain of Turkey’s oldest and arguably most historic club.

As for the man of the match, as I really feel I have to touch on this. Talisca of course saving the day and he probably deserves that title as much as the man I’m going to point out to you now, but Dusko Tosic put in a heroic performance. Seen by many as “just a rotation player”, he really put forth an incredible performance tonight with so many crucial sliding tackles that stopped Benfica in their tracks. Whereas Marcelo was one of the men to blame for Benfica’s goal, Tosic was pretty much flawless tonight. Granted, his agressive nature could also have cost the team had he been up against perhaps a bit more trickier players today, as his slides did include the risk that had he not gotten the ball he would have left a lot of room in his back, but he did get the ball and that’s all that matters. On another day perhaps he wouldn’t and we’d be blaming him for a goal, but tonight he was one of the heroes of our Champions League story, togehter with Anderson Talisca. Who was the man of the match? You decide, we have a poll up on Twitter as we speak.

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Kaan Bayazit

Editor-in-chief at Beşiktaş International
Freelance sports writer specialized in Turkish football and Beşiktaş. Co-host of the Black Eagles podcast. Frequently featured in World Soccer Digest Japan and many other international media outlets. Following Turkish football for close to two decades. Proud father to Aedin.
Kaan Bayazit
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