Benfica stunned Rangers with a second late comeback in three weeks to earn a draw at Ibrox and stall their hosts’ Europa League knockout hopes.
Strikes from Scott Arfield and Kemar Roofe in either half had Rangers cruising and on top of Group D, but an own goal from James Tavernier and a composed finish from Pizzi hauled Benfica level in the final 12 minutes.
However, Steven Gerrard’s side are still on course to reach the last 32 for consecutive years as they sit level with the Portuguese on eight points.
Rangers are top on head-to-head record – having scored three goals in Lisbon – and have a home match against Standard Liege and a trip to Poland to face Lech Poznan still to come.
But Gerrard will be disappointed not to have already secured a knockout place, having also let slip a 3-1 advantage against 10-man Benfica in their last group stage match.
Rangers have resembled a well-oiled machine throughout this season. Twenty-one games unbeaten. One goal conceded in 10 home games. Two shots on target faced in three previous group matches. That was their form prior to this one. They have been relentless.
Their only blip was the final 20 minutes in Lisbon, where they ceded a handsome advantage to Benfica, and pre-match Gerrard was asked what he had learned from that encounter. His reply was simple: at this level, you can’t afford to lose your shape or concentration. His players did not heed his warning.
For 75 minutes, this looked like being a routine win, with the magnificently honed 4-3-3 system ensuring Rangers looked incredibly solid, while retaining a threat.
Even when without the ball for large spells, blue shirts shifted across the Ibrox pitch in synchrony, with Benfica unable to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. Everton should have found the net after a clever cut back in the box, though, and Rafa Silva was denied by a lunging Leon Balogun.
By then, Rangers had already struck with all the usual hallmarks of their attacking play. Alfredo Morelos dropped deep, Borna Barisic whipped in a terrific delivery, Roofe forced a stunning save, Tavernier headed against the bar after some aggressive positioning, and Arfield arrived perfectly to lash in.
The start of the second-half continued to form, and Rangers’ plan. They kept their shape, frustrated their opponents, and struck in ruthless fashion when given a sniff.
Roofe’s goal – which arrived shortly after the forward shouted for a penalty for handball- was brilliantly worked, as Barisic and Glen Kamara combined down the left, with the former drifting inside to pick up a back-heel return. Ryan Kent’s clever leave then allowed Roofe to drive at Benfica’s defence and lash high into the net from 20 yards. Ruthless again.
But a side of Benfica’s quality – even while shorn of key players due to Covid-19 – always retain a threat. Tavernier was unlucky to bundle Goncalo Ramos’ shot into his own net, but it was his poor clearing header which allowed the ball to eventually fall to the Benfica attacker.
Morelos almost restored Rangers’ two-goal lead as his shot was pushed on to the crossbar, but some neat interchange from the Portuguese side allowed Pizzi to stroke the ball high into the net and clinch a point.
Two draws against Benfica is hardly a disaster for Rangers. If they beat Standard at Ibrox next week, a last-32 spot is theirs, and they are still unbeaten in 22 matches.
But throwing away three points once again will be a source of frustration, especially as a win would have sealed a knockout place.
Man of the match – Kemar Roofe
What did we learn?
There was little on show at Ibrox that we didn’t know already. Rangers are a brilliantly-coached team who know their shape and strategy perfectly, and for large spells looked comfortable, with Roofe a growing star with injuries hopefully behind him.
However, both games against a technically gifted Benfica side with plenty of European experience showed there is still some fine tuning to be done with this team. An occasional reminder of their mortality without damaging consequences for their campaign could be no bad thing.
- Rangers have still never lost at Ibrox in the Europa League group stage (P8 W4 D4).
- Benfica are unbeaten in their last five Europa League games (W2 D3), scoring at least twice in each of those matches (15 in total).
- Rangers have netted in 13 of their last 14 Europa League games, only failing to do so against Bayer Leverkusen in August.
- Two of the Ibrox side’s four own-goals in the competition have been scored against Benfica (Tavernier and Goldson).
- Arfield netted his first Europa League goal since his debut in the competition in September 2018 against Villarreal.
Rangers are away to Falkirk in the last 16 of the League Cup on Sunday (17:00 GMT), before hosting Standard Liege at Ibrox next Thursday (20:00) with the chance to book their place in the last 32 of the Europa League.
- 18KamaraBooked at 80mins
- 77Aleixo Leite
- 2JuniorSubstituted forMatias Ramosat 69′minutes
- 33Nivaldo Vieira
- 5VertonghenBooked at 82mins
- 27Ferreira Silva
- 8Appelt PiresBooked at 16mins
- 19MachadoBooked at 41minsSubstituted forAfonso Fernandesat 56′minutes
- 10WaldschmidtSubstituted forCupido Goncalvesat 56′minutes
- 14SeferovicSubstituted forReis Ferreiraat 90+3′minutes
- 7Sousa Soares
- 17Cupido Goncalves
- 21Afonso Fernandes
- 55Goncalves Bernardo
- 78Alves Araújo
- 82Fonseca Ferreira
- 88Matias Ramos
- 97Reis Ferreira
- Radu Marian Petrescu
Match ends, Rangers 2, Benfica 2.
Second Half ends, Rangers 2, Benfica 2.
Substitution, Benfica. Ferro replaces Haris Seferovic.
Alejandro Grimaldo (Benfica) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Alfredo Morelos (Rangers).
Attempt missed. Gabriel Pires (Benfica) left footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Offside, Rangers. Steven Davis tries a through ball, but Alfredo Morelos is caught offside.
Jan Vertonghen (Benfica) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Jan Vertonghen (Benfica).
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Goal! Rangers 2, Benfica 2. Pizzi (Benfica) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal.
Glen Kamara (Rangers) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Haris Seferovic (Benfica) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Glen Kamara (Rangers).
Attempt saved. Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Steven Davis.
Own Goal by James Tavernier, Rangers. Rangers 2, Benfica 1.
Attempt saved. Goncalo Ramos (Benfica) left footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Attempt blocked. Haris Seferovic (Benfica) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Everton.
Gabriel Pires (Benfica) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Alfredo Morelos (Rangers).
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