Match Report: VILLA 1-4 Benfica
Villa went down to Benfica as the Guadiana Cup holders showed their class to defend the title with a 4-1 win.
Martin O'Neill's men were beaten by Jorge Jesus's Champions League outfit as the Eagles soared with the attacking, free-flowing football which helped them to the Portuguese title for the first time in five years last season.
Goals from David Luis, Javier Saviola (2) and Oscar Cardoza did the damage on a night when Villa didn't really get going.
Second half super sub John Carew, who hyper-extended his knee in the warm-up but still made himself available, pulled one back late on but it was too little, too late for the claret and blue troops on the night.
However, Villa can take great heart from a pre-season training camp in Portugal which has seen them foster superb team spirit and improve their already-impressive fitness levels under the intense Algarve heat.
Benfica are renowned for their breathtaking attacking play and so it proved in the final match of Villa's trip abroad.
The three-time Guadiana Cup victors and reigning champions stroked the ball around with the confidence that comes with emerging victorious in your domestic league courtesy of 24 victories, four draws and two defeats.
Centre-half Luis, who looked more like a central midfielder with his surging runs forward, opened the scoring on 11 minutes - with a big slice of luck thrown in.
His shot from distance was heading wide before deflecting wickedly past the helpless Friedel.
After that fortuitous opener, Villa improved considerably with Marc Albrighton and Ashley Young making every effort to get O'Neill's men back in the game.
Indeed, it was star pre-season performer Albrighton who nearly pulled Villa level, when he received the ball at the back post on 24 minutes. He controlled beautifully before firing agonisingly wide from just outside the box.
It represented our best chance of that first half - and it was vital Villa scored next in the deciding cup clash.
Unfortunately, the two-time European Cup winners bagged two more before the break.
Jara fired at Friedel from long-range on 37 minutes and the USA stopper did well to save but the ball fell to ex-Real Madrid striker Saviola who made no mistake from close-in.
If that goal was simple, their next certainly wasn't.
Richard Dunne was booked for a late tackle on Jara six minutes later just outside the box. Last season's leading scorer Cardoza, who bagged 26 goals, fired home the free-kick into the top right corner of Friedel's goal.
Villa came out determined at the start of the second half but Benfica virtually put the game to bed five minutes after the restart when Saviola fired past Friedel from just outside the box, following a pinpoint cross from the impressive Jara.
And four minutes later the star striker could have had his hat-trick but he headed against a post when well-placed.
Benfica made a flurry of substitutions just after the hour mark, with the effective Pablo Aimar, Saviola and Cardozo all exiting the action.
But it was second half Villa sub Carew who made his presence felt with a fine individual goal on 69, twisting and turning before firing brilliantly past Roberto.
The giant striker almost made it a quickfire double five minutes later but his cheeky chip, which eluded keeper Roberto, was cleared by the last man.
Indeed it was the claret and blue troops who were by far the more effective in the latter stages of the game - Steve Sidwell firing over and Carew having two shots blocked at the death - but Benfica managed to keep clear-cut efforts to a minimum.
VILLA: Friedel; L Young, Cuellar (Davies, 13), Dunne, Shorey (Warnock, HT); Albrighton (Weimann, 84), Petrov, Sidwell, A Young (Downing, HT), Delfouneso (Carew, 57), Heskey (Reo-Coker, HT). Subs: Guzan, Clark, Bannan, Lichaj, Beye.
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