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Soccer-Benfica and Ferencvaros close in on playoff berths

(Reuters) – Former European champions Benfica took a big step towards the Champions League playoff round after second-half goals by Rafa Silva and substitute Gilberto gave the Portuguese side a 2-0 win at Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

In the day’s other third qualifying round first-leg games, Hungarian champions Ferencvaros beat Slavia Prague 2-0 at home while Croatian title holders Dinamo Zagreb were held to a 1-1 draw by visiting Legia Warsaw.

Benfica were denied a bigger win by Spartak goalkeeper Aleksandar Maksimenko, who was powerless to stop Silva firing the visitors ahead in the 51st minute when he buried his shot into the top corner after a one-two with Joao Mario.

Gilberto added the second in the 74th with another clinical finish from inside the area after taking a defence-splitting pass from Lucas Verissimo in his stride.

Ferencvaros were on the back foot against Slavia for much of the first half but took a 44th-minute lead out of the blue thanks to a bizarre Taras Kacharaba own goal.

The defender slid in ahead of an onrushing Ferencvaros forward and knocked an innocuous-looking back pass to Ondrej Kolar but the ball bobbled over the goalkeeper’s foot much to the delight of the fervent home fans behind his net.

Kacharaba compounded a frustrating evening for him when he gave away a 50th-minute penalty with a clumsy foul on Myrto Uzuni. Igor Kharatin converted the spot kick to put Ferencvaros in the driving seat ahead of the return leg.

Croatia striker Bruno Petkovic fired Dinamo ahead with a superb header on the hour from a Luka Ivanusec cross but Legia hit back in the 82nd minute when Ernest Muci unleashed an unstoppable shot from 20 metres.

The match was played after fierce clashes between rival fans in Zagreb on Tuesday evening, with Croatian media reporting that they hurled rocks, flares and bottles at each other.

The return legs will be played next Tuesday.

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)

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