Ten-man Benfica resist dominant Juve to secure final spot
Ten-man Benfica resisted a Juventus onslaught in a scoreless draw in Turin to qualify for their second successive Europa League final after a 2-1 aggregate win on Thursday.
With a home final on the horizon Juventus had made winning the Europa League a priority after crashing out of the Champions League earlier this season.
But despite a dominant display at Juventus Stadium, where midfielder Enzo Perez saw red for the visitors with 20 minutes remaining, Juve ultimately failed to find the goal that would have secured their place in the May 14 final.
After a dramatic finish which saw substitutes Mirko Vucinic and Lazar Markovic earn red cards following a touchline scuffle and Benfica's players engage in questionable tactics apparently designed to waste time, Juve coach Antonio Conte hit out at both the Portuguese and the referee Mark Clattenburg.
"I didn't appreciate either the attitude of our opponents or the referee," said Conte.
He added: "They had two shots on goal over the two legs and now they're into the final. In the end, the least deserving team have gone to the final.
"We gave it everything we could but it wasn't enough. Now we have to turn our attention to winning the title, which we can do on Monday against Atalanta."
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said: "We came under a lot of pressure against a strong side featuring the likes of Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente and Arturo Vidal.
"But tonight we showed how we can defend."
Benfica, beaten 2-1 by Chelsea in last year's final, will now meet Sevilla in Turin after they beat fellow Spaniards Valencia on away goals following a 3-3 draw.
Juve, meanwhile, will be lamenting what might have been after a one-sided display that produced plenty of chances but no goals.
Early chances by Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal went amiss and it soon became clear Benfica seemed intent on soaking up the pressure to strike on the counter. The tactic worked wonders as the Portuguese champions' defence held firm throughout.
From a corner Carlos Tevez was left virtually unmarked to send a volley from close range just over Jan Oblak's crossbar.
Just after the half hour Vidal set up Pirlo, whose shot went wide and then teed up Llorente, whose bundled shot from the edge of the area met traffic.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci had fans out their seats when he rose at Oblak's near post to send Pirlo's free kick across the face of goal with a glancing header, Tevez just missing contact with his outstretched boot.
Benfica had skipper Luisao to thank moments later when he headed Vidal's bouncing header to safety after Asamoah had been set up nicely by Pogba's cheeky dink through two defenders.
The players emerged to a deluge of rain for the second half but it did little to dim Benfica's resolve.
Benfica created two half-chances in quick succession, Rodrigo notably forcing Buffon to rush out at his feet after being put through on the right.
A Pirlo free kick from 30 metres looked to be creeping into the top corner until Oblak reacted quickly.
Minutes later Juve were given what should have been a boost when Perez earned his second caution for hauling down Vidal, but for the remaining 20 minutes the Bianconeri laboured to find an opening.
Tevez was sent through by Asamoah but after dinking past one defender his shot from 20 metres was collected easily by Oblak.
Sensing the danger, Conte reshuffled, replacing Bonucci with striker Sebastian Giovinco on 73 minutes but with 10 minutes the hosts had made little progress.
Conte replaced Llorente with Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and moments later the hosts spurned another opening when Lichsteiner failed to control a piercing cross from the left flank as he ghosted into space to the right of goal.
Osvaldo had the ball in the net on 81 minutes when he volleyed Pogba's cut-back into a virtually emtpy net but it was ruled offside.
Benfica dug in for the remainder, and a touchline scuffle between Juve substitute Vucinic and Markovic, who had been substituted minutes earlier, prompted referee Mark Clattenburg to issue both with red cards on 89 minutes.