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Goodison Park | 5th November 2009 20:05

Everton v Benfica

Everton's attempts to move closer to qualification from Europa League Group I ended in defeat as the Blues went down 2-0 to rivals Benfica at Goodison Park.

Second half goals from Javier Saviola and Oscar Cardozo - who were both on the scoresheet a fortnight ago - consigned David Moyes' men to their second defeat in the section.

Everton came into the game in the very first Europa League campaign without a win since the trip to FC BATE, while the visitors had suffered just two in all competitive games this season, though they did lose to domestic title rivals Sporting Braga at the weekend.

Eight of the players who helped As Aguias to victory over the Blues' side a fortnight ago started in this contest. The most prominent name missing from the outset was that of Argentinian midfielder Pablo Aimar - so impressive in the first meeting in Lisbon - who had to settle for a place on the bench.

The Toffees had the better of the opening half and could easily have gone ahead with less than four minutes on the clock. Marouane Fellaini went past Luisao on the left-edge of the penalty and tested the hands of Julio Cesar with a low effort.

Undeterred, Ramires got behind the Everton defence to give Tim Howard some early work from what seemed an almost impossible angle; but the American was up to the test.

Benfica's high line was causing any long-pass forward to run harmlessly through to the Benfica keeper, while the quick surface brought on by the torrential rain in the lead-up to kick-off was assisting Benfica's slick passing game.

And on 13 minutes, Saviola's nod-down to Angel Di Maria saw the midfielder strike a decent volley which had to be watched by Howard.

YakubuYakubu tussles acrobatically for the ball

Yakubu was found excellently by Leighton Baines almost immediately and slipped his marker inside the box with a stunning turn, but his left-footed effort was off-target.

On 22, a free-kick in the centre circle was taken quickly by Jack Rodwell out to Baines on the left, who in turn played it down the line for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

The Russian's clever twist and turn allowed him enough space to play in a great cross which was never properly cleared, first falling to Baines and then back to the man who started the move who hit a half-volley from 25 yards, swerving a few yards away from the top right-hand corner.

On the half-hour mark, Yakubu's looping, inswinging cross from the left was pushed over his own crossbar by Julio Cesar, with some panic.

But the first real effort on target for the hosts came just after the half hour mark, when a counter-attack which had seemed to lose momentum, eventually saw Bilyaletdinov delivering for Tim Cahill to head into the arms of the goalkeeper.

The best chance of the first half came when Ruben Amorim played a great cross in from the right which Oscar Cardozo met well with his head, striking the foot of the near post, but Howard pulled off a tremendous save from Saviola's follow-up to keep the scoresheet blank at the break. 

The diminutive Angel di Maria outpaced Joseph Yobo but fired his left-footed effort over the crossbar on 56 minutes as the visitors upped their game in the second half.

Indeed, Di Maria was proving the main threat as Benfica's creative force.

But it was his countryman Saviola who opened the scoring just after the hour-mark when the Everton defence failed to clear inside their own box.

The ball eventually landed at the former Barcelona and Real Madrid forward's feet and he finished clinically from 12 yards, low into the corner of the Park End net.

Dan Gosling and Javi GarciaDan Gosling and Javi Garcia

With 22 minutes left, Yakubu was given some help up front when Dan Gosling was replaced by the Brazilian, Jo.

But Jorge Jesus' side doubled their advantage with a quarter of an hour left, when Oscar Cordozo volleyed the Portuguese side into what proved an unassailable lead.

With four minutes left, a Rodwell effort from afar was deflected into the path of Sylvain Distin, who could scarcely believe his luck eight yards from goal. His control and finish were worthy of a striker, but Julio Cesar pulled off a great save to deny the Frenchman.

From the resulting corner, substitute Kieran Agard rose well six yards out, but directed his header wide of the far post.

The result leaves the Blues still sitting second on six points, behind leaders Benfica, with the other two sides in the group - AEK Athens and FC BATE - playing out a 2-2 draw.

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