UEFA Champions League: Benfica blown away by first-half PSG burst
Paris: Paris Saint-Germain indicated that they are genuine contenders to win this season`s Champions League with a stunning first-half display in a 3-0 win against Benfica in their Group C match on Wednesday.
Superbly-worked goals scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marquinhos and another effort by the Swede had PSG 3-0 up within half an hour, and a shell-shocked Benfica never looked capable of recovering.
Laurent Blanc`s side are now in command of the section with a maximum six points and seven goals scored in two games, and a double-header of fixtures against Belgian title-holders Anderlecht offers them a glorious chance to seal their last-16 place with something to spare.
The French capital club were without injured captain Thiago Silva, but his fellow Brazilian Alex recovered from a thigh knock in time to take his place in the heart of the defence, while Blaise Matuidi shook off a foot problem to start in midfield and Edinson Cavani returned in attack after being rested at the weekend.
Sitting five points behind leaders and bitter rivals Porto in their domestic top flight just now, this was always likely to be a massive test for Benfica, even if the huge Portuguese immigrant population in Paris guaranteed them a sizeable and noisy following inside the Parc des Princes.
PSG have not been entirely convincing domestically this season, but they came into this fixture still unbeaten and their expensively-assembled squad played with an insatiable appetite early on, carving apart a Benfica side who dream of reaching a final that is scheduled to be played in their own stadium next May.
The hosts were ahead inside five minutes as a magnificent move, involving Marco Verratti and Matuidi, ended with Gregory Van der Wiel crossing low from the right for Ibrahimovic to roll the ball into the net.
Any hopes that Benfica had of ending PSG`s unbeaten home record in European competitions, which stood at 24 games at the start of the evening, already appeared forlorn and their coach Jorge Jesus would have feared a hiding when they fell further behind on 25 minutes.
It was another wonderful goal, and the precocious Italian international midfielder Verratti was at its origin, his brilliantly improvised pass inside the box releasing Matuidi to cross low for Marquinhos to stab into an empty net.
It was a second goal in as many Champions League games for the young Brazilian defender, who is only now getting a run in the side following his summer acquisition from Roma.
The visitors then lost Serbian midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa to injury before conceding again when Thiago Motta`s corner was nodded in by Ibrahimovic, who scored his 33rd Champions League goal on the eve of his 32nd birthday.
The tempo dropped after that and Benfica finally tested Salvatore Sirigu in the home goal two minutes into the second period, the Italian fisting away a well-struck Ezequiel Garay free-kick.
However, the outcome of the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Lucas might even have made it 4-0 shortly after coming on with 20 minutes to go, his shot from range stinging the palms of Artur in goal.
The sole concern for Blanc would have been the limited impact made by Cavani, the record summer signing from Napoli who does not yet fit into the PSG system.
The Uruguayan saw little of the ball from his position on the right of the attack and was outshone by Ibrahimovic, although he fared a little better after moving inside for the closing stages, finally forcing a save from Artur after 74 minutes.