Óscar Cardozo's brilliant finish earned a deserved away victory but the visitors were indebted to Artur and a late goal-line clearance.
Óscar Cardozo's brilliant subtle finish earned SL Benfica a deserved away victory in the first leg of their round of 32 meeting with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The Paraguay striker kept his cool on a frosty night in the Rhineland to secure the advantage going into next week's Lisbon return. Despite enjoying the better of the chances, Benfica still had an impressive performance by No1 Artur to thank for preserving their clean sheet, as Leverkusen fought to keep their UEFA Europa League ambitions intact.
The last time these sides met in Germany, in the 1993/94 European Cup Winners' Cup, they produced a spectacular 4-4 draw. However, following a tight opening spell there seemed little likelihood of a similar outcome here. The most inviting opportunity of the first period fell to the visitors on 18 minutes.
André Gomes played an excellent 40-metre, first-time pass across a snow-glazed surface to split the Leverkusen defence and provide Urreta with ample space to shoot. The Uruguayan's weak effort was easily saved by Bernd Leno in the Leverkusen goal.
The sleet continued to fall after the interval, making it difficult for both teams, but on the hour the game warmed up as Michal Kadlec and Lars Bender were denied from point-blank range by Artur. A minute later, at the other end, Benfica broke the deadlock. André Almeida sped away on the right wing before cutting a dangerous ball low across the face of goal. Cardozo met it, sidestepped Leno, before casually chipping into the net.
Leverkusen pressed for an equaliser and came close in the dying seconds when Sidney Sam's lob finally beat Artur, but Melgarejo headed off the line to safety.