Lisbon – It just had to be Luis Diaz.
The Colombian winger was the last player Benfica fans wanted inside an atmospheric Estadio da Luz to see a through-ball race and create a strong finish for Liverpool to win 3-1 in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
After all, Diaz played for Porto – Benfica’s main rival in Portugal – until he signed for Liverpool in January. Not surprisingly, he was whipped by home fans – and even targeted with a throw from the stand – when he walked away in celebration after his crucial third goal in the 87th minute.
It was also a great goal, as Diaz Nabi ran into Keita’s deflected pass that split Benfica’s defense, scoring the goalkeeper and slotting his finish into the unprotected net from a solid angle.
“She’s got a nice reception, isn’t she?” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said with a laugh. “It was a good finish for him and a really important goal for us. It gives us two goal cushions, which makes a difference.”
Diaz, who was mocked whenever he touched the ball, played a big role in Liverpool’s second goal when he lowered his head with a certain long pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold so that Sadio could knock Mane home from very close in the 34th minute. The first center back for the club came from Robertson’s Outswing Corner in the 16th minute – based on a Liverpool opener by Ibrahima Konet.
Benfica could easily have lagged behind at halftime, but in the second half the game was taken even further by the six-time European champions and Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez capitalized on a mistake in the 49th minute.
There were a few more rocky moments for Liverpool – in one of which, goalkeeper Alison Baker was almost knocked out by Rafa Silva on the edge of his area – Jurgen Klopp’s side would win their fifth straight win in all competitions before Diaz’s strike was confirmed.
The Reds have passed the latest test for their unprecedented four-time trophy, where the semifinals are now in sight. They have already won the English League Cup, are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and are one point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League.
Klopp even took the option of dismissing star striker Mane and Mohamed Salah in the 61st minute, probably keeping in mind the league showdown against City on Sunday.
CTO will enter the game with a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the other quarter-final on Tuesday.