Champions League: Luis Diaz haunts familiar foes
It just had to be Luis Diaz.
The Colombia winger was the last player Benfica supporters inside the atmospheric Estadio da Luz wanted to see race onto a through ball and produce an emphatic finish to complete a 3-1 win for Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final on Tuesday.
After all, Diaz was playing for Porto, Benfica’s big rivals in Portugal, until he was signed by Liverpool in January.
No wonder he was whistled by home fans — and even targeted with objects thrown from the stands — as he wheeled away in celebration following his crucial third goal in the 87th minute.
It was a brilliantly taken goal, too, as Diaz latched onto Naby Keita’s deflected pass that split Benfica’s defence before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting his finish into the unguarded net from a tight angle.
“He got a nice reception, didn’t he?” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said, smiling. “It was a good finish for him and a really important goal for us. It gives us a two-goal cushion, which makes a difference.”
Diaz, who was jeered whenever he touched the ball, played a big part in Liverpool’s second goal, too, when he nodded down a pinpoint long pass by Trent Alexander-Arnold to allow Sadio Mane to tap home from close range in the 34th. That built on Liverpool’s opener scored by Ibrahima Konate — the centre back’s first for the club — off an outswinging corner from Robertson in the 17th minute.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp heaped praise on Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos for denying the English side a bigger victory.
“We should have scored much more,” Klopp said. “I think, mainly because of their goalkeeper, credit to him. Their goalkeeper was probably the game’s best player. We played well, but he made a couple of really good saves.”
Klopp said he was satisfied with the win and with their two-goal advantage ahead of next week’s second leg at Anfield. “It was a tough game but I expected it,” Klopp said.
“They had these counter-attacks as they recovered the ball in the midfield that was a threat. It’s not always easy to keep the ball all the time. The further you go, the more risk you take. And they have really good players.”
After Liverpool dominated the first half, Benfica made a game of it after the break at a packed stadium, that roared their team back into the contest when Darwin Nunez made it 2-1.