Leighton Baines was a late addition to the massive list of injured absentees.. a ridiculous TEN players out of action, and two (Heitinga & Neill) ineligible. Hence a debut for Seamus Coleman, and Cahill gets his first captaincy.
Benfica started strongly with set pieces and Louisau should have scored from their first corner, his free header flashing just wide. But Everton settled quickly and started to play some European-style football. But a bit of consistent pressure bought a silly goal given away on 13 mins, Saviola mis-hitting a deep cross from Dimaria into the ground hard, the ball looping over Howard into the back of the net. Coleman, possibly at fault for not cutting it out or blocking the shot better.
Everton continued to play a steady game but attacks were breaking down with Jo, whose crossing was horrendous. However, he won a good free-kick on the right that Bily floated in but Jo was offside. At the other end, another close shave as Distin had to scoop the ball past the post, then it needed some solid blocks off the corner.
Everton's first corner on the half-hour, delivered well to the far post, saw Fellaini and Cahill get in each other's way. Gosling came in a little hard on Peixeto and got booked. Bily had a fantastic volley from a deep cross that rocketed just over the bar.
Less than 2 mins after the break and a dreadful goal to give away, Distin somehow not clearing, Eimar surged forward and crossed for Cardosso to slot it home withease. A minute later, an almost identical attack down the left by Dimaria, and excellent cross headed in by Cardosso. Easy peasy! The next corner, Luisoa a downward header bounces in off the post: 4-0. Unbelievable. Then Diamaria beats Howard, smacks the ball off the bar! Oh deary me...
Moyes's response, on the hour, was to bring off perhaps the only creative hope, Bilyaletdinov, replacing him with a third striker, Saha. End of.
They traveled in their droves to the Estadio Da Luz, reportedly in the greatest number since the glorious European nights of 1985 when Everton blew away Continental giants, Bayern Munich on their way to lifting the European Cup Winners Cup, but there were to be no heroics in the famous Lisbon stadium tonight.
Instead of a famous win over Benfica against all the odds, the Blues crashed to their heaviest defeat in European competition and many Evertonians were seen trooping out of the ground before an hour had elapsed with heads hung, heading no doubt for the nearest bar to watch the rest of a miserable spectacle from the Blues' perspective with a pint for consolation.
With the illustrious team of '85, in homage to whom the team wears a prominent "V" on the chest of the Royal Blue jersey this season, there were almost no parrallels — a bullet-like volley off the left boot of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov evoking Kevin Sheedy was perhaps the only one, one of only two occasions on which David Moyes's side threatened to score in the entire 90 minutes.
Even accounting for a horrendous list of injuries and ineligible players, it's unlikely that Moyes would have envisioned a result this damaging even in his worst pre-game nightmares. By the time kick off rolled around, the roll of missing first-team players had risen to 12 after Joseph Yobo, Leon Osman and then Leighton Baines were ruled out through injury.
His defence decimated, the manager had to again deploy Tony Hibbert as an emergency central defender, Dan Gosling at right back and pitch Seamus Coleman, a right-sided fullback by trade, into a premature debut against the Portuguese giants at left back. Unfortunately, all three players were tormented at times by the pace and flair in Benfica's attack but, in truth, the match was lost in such emphatic fashion all over the pitch.
Without the creative sparks of Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar in midfield, the Blues were always going to struggle going forward, just as they had done in the recent Premier League draws against Stoke City and Wolves.
Looking well off the pace, Marouane Fellaini, a player on whom a fortune was spent in the expectation that he would shine on the European stage, spent most of the game chasing shadows and was directly culpable for the killer second goal two minutes after the break.
Tim Cahill, captain for the evening and operating out of necessity in right midfield, toiled commendably enough but was unable to dictate the tempo of Everton's performance, leaving the onus on Jack Rodwell and Bilyaletdinov, both of whom deserved better than to end up on the end of a 5-0 hiding.
Up front, the consistently ineffective Jô was mystifyingly preferred to Louis Saha in attack alongside Yakubu, the latter still looking miles short of match sharpness and the point was underscored late on when the Frenchman hit the post with his first real touch of the evening.
Even given all of that, a solitary goal, scored by Javier Saviola after a quarter of an hour, was all that separated the two sides at half time. A shaky start by Everton, in which the home side enjoyed some remarkably generous refereeing from the Russian official, almost saw Luisao give Benfica the lead but he couldn't capitalise on being left unmarked for Aimar's corner and headed a yard wide from six yards out.
10 minutes later, though, the Portuguese side did score when Angel di Maria's left-wing cross beat the back-pedalling Coleman at the back post and Saviola half-volleyed smartly into the ground and over Tim Howard's despairing reach to find the far side of the goal.
A chance at the other end offered hope of an immediate reply but after jinking himself nicely into space, Jô's shot from the angle was tame and easily smothered by the goalkeeper. A few minutes later Cahill and Fellaini got in each other's way trying to reach a Bilyaletdinov corner and the Australian headed over at the back stick.
Either side of that, Benfica continued to threaten, Di Maria forcing Sylvain Distin to slice over his own crossbar, Ramirez heading narrowly wide and then letting fly with a drive that smashed into the stantion behind Howard's goal. That strike was no comparison to Bilyaletdinov's volley after half an hour, though; the Russian caught the ball sweetly from 20 yards out but despatched his blazing effort inches over.
A subsequent effort by the Russian midfielder with his right foot was less impressive and flew well over, the Blues' last chance to restore parity before half time.
Any hope Everton had of earning a creditable away draw, however, evaporated in the space of five minutes just after the restart. Fellaini's head was clearly still in the dressing room as he dithered on the edge of his own area, gave the ball away cheaply to Saviola who accelerated towards the byline, crossed to Oscar Cordozo in the centre and he converted first-time off his shin.
2-0 became 3-0 a minute later and the telling ball again came down the Benfica left as Di Maria skinned Gosling for pace and centered where Cordozo was free to power a downward header past the stranded Howard.
Four minutes after that it was game over when Luisao was allowed to get free between Fellaini and Distin at a corner from the right and he stooped to glance a header off the inside of the far post.
And it was very nearly 5-0 in the 55th minute when Di Maria made space in front of Distin on the edge of the area and curled a shot off the face of the crossbar.
Moyes responded by taking the only creative outlet in his midfield out of the fray — although it subsequently emerged that Bilyaletdinov had strained a thigh muscle — and throwing Saha on to partner the Yak, Jô moving to a more wide-left berth. But the Blues were almost as impotent as a team can be going forward in the second half, profligate in possession and consistently letting themselves down with the final ball.
In truth they looked like reducing the deficite and limiting the damage to their potentially important goal difference just once after the break, that in the 12th minute before the end when Saha swiveled smartly on Jô's cross but his shot bounced off the outside of the post.
That left Benfica to underscore their superiority in devastatingly simple terms when a long ball from the back left Hibbert hopelessly out-matched with Di Maria's pace to the point where the defender stopped chasing him as Howard came off his line. The speedy winger beat the American to the ball and clipped it across to Saviola who got in ahead of Distin and converted from close range.
In the end, a horrible evening that outlined in the starkest terms both how ill-equipped Everton are in terms of numbers for the demands of European competition against this calibre of opposition and the paucity of creativity that exists in midfield without Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta.
Of course, it's unlikely that had Baines and Yobo been fit that the score would have been quite so embarrassing because while Coleman did not disgrace himself by any means — to the contrary, his was a confident display, particulalry going forward — it was Hibbert and Gosling who bore the brunt of Benfica's attacking brilliance.
But the lack of cutting edge at the other end that lay at the root of the failure to beat both Stoke and Wolves at home recently was painfully evident tonight and contributed to the impression the Everton were completely out-classed by what looked on this evidence to be Champions League-quality opposition.
Bereft of pace and any real attacking guile, the Blues looked positively pedestrian at times in the wide open spaces of the Stadium of Light. Those absent midfield maestros can't return soon enough...
Everton have found the challenges of European competition to their liking so far this season, using success on the Continent to breathe life into a stuttering start in the Premier League, but they go into their biggest test in this competition since the two-legged affair against Fiorentina with more huge selection headaches.
The Blues face Portuguese giants, Benfica, at the Estádio da Luz with limited options, particularly in defence and midfield after both Joseph Yobo and Leon Osman joined the band of walking wounded. Yobo is ruled out with a head injury and an ankle complaint has sidelined Osman which has compounded the continuing absence of Steven Pienaar.
The South African is still out as he recovers from the severe bruising he sustained to his knee against Portsmouth 4 weeks ago, so with John Heitinga and Lucas Neill both cup-tied for the Europa League group phase, David Moyes's team will virtually pick itself.
As was the case against BATE Borisov, Tony HIbbert will likely be drafted back into central defence with Dan Gosling deployed at right back. Midfield options are limited to Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, so Moyes will probably be forced to go 4-4-2 with Louis Saha and Yakubu up top.
While the Blues have toiled their way to mid-table in the Premier League, Benfica currently lie second in the Portuguese Liga Sagres behind Braga after seven games. They got themselves in the mood for this third game of Europa League Group I by walloping Monsanto 6-0 in the Portuguese cup on Sunday.
Despite their injury and eligibility woes, though, Everton will take confidence from the fact they they lead Group I with a 100% record, those two wins that opened their group-phase campaign allowing them some leeway for tough fixtures like this one should victory prove beyond them.
They will be cheered on, though, by what will be the largest support for an Everton away match in Europe since the victorious 1985 European Cup Winners' Cup campaign. 5,500 official tickets have been sold to Blues fans with thousands more expected to travel.
|Premier League Scores|
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|2008-09 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Aimar (69' Martins)|
|Cardoza (77' Coentrao)|
|Saviola (85' Weldon)|
|Subs not used|
|Bilyaletdinov (60' Saha :76')|
|Yakubu (72' Baxter)|
|Subs not used|
|BATE Borisov||2-1||AEK Athens|