Hapoel Tel Aviv earned special praise from Benfica manager Jorge Jesus following last night’s Champions League Group B opener when the Israeli champions were beaten 2-0 at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
A goal in each half ensured that there was no shock against the competition new boys but the visitors caused the former European Cup winners problems, with Etay Shechter denied two strong penalty appeals by Russian referee Aleksei Nikolaev, the second of which the Shechter was booked for alleged simulation.
Jesus said: “We deserved to win. We we're very steady in defence and picked our moment to score. We knew that if we got the first one they would have to take more risks.
“But Hapoel are an excellent team and they will not end up fourth in this section. Let's see if they don't complicate things for everyone in this group.”
With Hapoel keeper Vincent Enyeama on top form, Benfica started to get on top and they forged ahead midway through the first half with a stunning strike from captain Luisao. The Brazilian defender produced a sweet volley to meet a Carlos Martins with power that left Enyeama stranded.
Eli Guttman’s men did not let their heads drop and their movement and width caused Benfica problems. They came close three minutes after the goal but home keeper
Roberto was alert to claw away at deflected cross from Hapoel captain Gil Vermouth.
Enyeama came to the rescue minutes later with a smart block from Argentinian Pablo Aimar.
Trailing at the break, Hapoel went further behind after 68 minutes when a Paraguayan Oscar Cardozo ended a stunning move with an accomplished finish.
With time running out, Hapoel substitute Toto Tamuz crashed an effort against the woodwork but the visitors were comfortably beaten on the night.
Hapoel manager Eli Guttman said: “We lost the match but came to play football, not just to hoof it upfield. We created chances and kept hold of the ball as much as we could, but we were lacking in the luck department. Toto Tamuz's shot hitting the woodwork in the closing stages was symbolic of our performance on the night.
“Benfica are the champions of Portugal and we are the Israeli champions; we were worthy opponents and our players felt good on the pitch. They ran, created chances and even though we didn't score this time, maybe we will next time. Lyon are tough opponents, but at Bloomfield we are capable of anything.”
Hapoel will attempt to get off the mark at their Bloomfield Stadium ground against Olympique Lyonnais next week.
Benfica: Roberto, Luisao (capt), Ruben Amorim, Javi Garcia, Oscar Cardozo, Pablo Aimar (sub: Airton 74), Carlos Martins, Fabio Coentrao, Nicolas Gaitin (sub: Maxi Perreira 57), David Luiz, Javier Saviola (sub: Cesar Peixoto 87). Subs not used: Julio Cesar, Frano Jara, Nuno Gomes, Sidnei
Goals: Luisao 21, Cardozo 68
Hapoel: Vincent Enyeama, Douglas da Silva, Dani Bondarv, Bevan Fransman (sub: Walid Badir 74), Etay Shechter, Ben Sahar (sub: Toto Tamuz 58), Gil Vermouth, Eran Zahavi, Dedi Ben-Dayan, Avihay Yadin, Romain Rocchi (sub: Yossi Shivhon 61). Subs not used: Galil Ben-Shanan, Shay Abutbul, Omri Kende, Gal Shish
Booked: Shechter 22, Ben-Dayan 60