Bayer 04 Leverkusen outclassed former European champions SL Benfica 3-1 on Wednesday to earn their first points in the UEFA Champions League Group C and bounce back in style from an opening defeat to AS Monaco.
With some help from blundering Benfica ’keeper Julio Cesar, first-half goals from Stefan Kiessling and Son Heung-min settled the hosts’ nerves and put them on track for their first win in the competition.
Eduardo Salvio briefly pulled one back for the struggling visitors in the 62nd minute, before a Hakan Calhanoglu spot-kick settled matters only a minute later.
The hosts set a fierce pace early on, with South Korean Son almost scoring after four minutes and only being denied by a fine save from Cesar. Lars Bender then hit the post with a deflected shot from inside the box as the hosts continued to press for a quick goal to put them in control.
Cesar, a replacement for suspended Artur, gifted the German side the lead when, after blocking Son, he spilled the ball into the path of Kiessling, who tapped in.
Son then scored one of his own in the 34th, with Karim Bellarabi cutting into the box and finding the South Korean, who rifled into the top corner.
Argentine Salvio gave the visitors a glimmer of hope when he threaded a shot past goalkeeper Bernd Leno — their only shot on goal in the entire game.
Kiessling was then brought down by Jardel for a penalty and Calhanoglu made amends for his earlier miss, sending Cesar the wrong way.
The win put the Werkself up to three points, one behind Zenit St Petersburg and Monaco, who drew 0-0 earlier on Wednesday. Benfica are bottom of the group without a point.
In St Petersburg, Hulk was the standout performer for the hosts in the goalless draw with the Ligue 1 visitors on Wednesday, hours after it had been confirmed that he had been the target of racial abuse in a Russian league match.
The Brazil international, who had told a Russian newspaper that he could hear monkey chants aimed at him by visiting Spartak Moscow fans on Saturday, produced a lively display at the same venue.
Even his occasional flashes of brilliance, though, could not break the deadlock as Zenit and Monaco played out a disappointing stalemate on a freezing night.
Hulk, who helped create a couple of Zenit’s best chances with his surging runs, had earlier told the Sport Express newspaper that on Saturday: “I clearly heard monkey chants shouted in my direction and this was not only on one occasion. It was coming from a large group of people... I take this as a personal insult for me and my club.”
Russian Football Union disciplinary committee chief Artur Grigoryants also confirmed that racial abuse had taken place before the panel announced that Spartak supporters would be banned from attending the club’s next away-game at Ural Yekaterinenburg on Oct. 19.
The dispiriting controversy showed no signs of disrupting Hulk’s form against Les Roug et Blanc though, as Zenit, despite being unable to find any early rhythm in the absence of their Belgian midfield fulcrum Axel Witsel, protected a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Zenit and Monaco both have four points from two games.
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