SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (AP) — Real Sociedad scored three times in the first 21 minutes to defeat Benfica 3-1 and reach the Champions League round of 16 for the second time in its history on Wednesday.
Sociedad secured a spot in the next stage after Inter Milan won 1-0 at Salzburg in the other Group D match. The Spanish club had advanced to the last 16 in its debut in Europe’s top club competition in 2003-04.
Benfica, the two-time European champion that had reached the quarterfinals the last two seasons, was eliminated after its fourth loss in four matches.
Sociedad moved to 10 points, the same as Inter and seven more than third-place Salzburg. Benfica, which lost 1-0 to Sociedad in the previous round, stayed last with no points.
“The Champions League is the best competition you can aspire to as a club and playing these matches gives you visibility throughout Europe,” Sociedad forward Ander Barrenetxea said. "I hope we can continue like this because it’s been incredible.”
Sociedad came out pressing and overwhelmed Benfica in a near-perfect first half in which it also missed a penalty kick with Brais Méndez, who was trying to become the first Spanish player to scored at least once in four consecutive Champions League matches.
“We could have gone into halftime having scored four or five goals and the game would have been over,” Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal said. “There could have been some doubts after their goal, but we were able to stay in control.”
Mikel Merino opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Oyarzabal netted in the 11th and Barrenetxea got the third in the 21st. Benfica pulled one closer with Rafa Silva in the 49th.
"We had a very difficult start," Benfica forward Casper Tengstedt said. “They were good and we knew that. But it’s difficult when you are 3-0 down at halftime. We did a little bit better (in the second half) but it was not enough."
The match was briefly stopped early in the second half after Benfica fans threw flares toward Sociedad supporters. Benfica players were seen asking the fans to stop throwing them. There were no reports of injuries.
The referee also momentarily halted action toward the end of the match because of an issue with a Sociedad fan in the stands.
Sociedad's Russian midfielder Arsen Zakharyan entered the match in the 78th to mark what was believed to be the first time a Russian and a Ukrainian player (Benfica goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin) faced each other in the Champions League this season.
Sociedad is making its third group-stage appearance and first since 2013-14 when it finished fourth with one point in a group with Manchester United, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk. The Basque Country club was eliminated by Lyon in the round of 16 in 2003-04. Its most successful UEFA run came in 1982-83, when it reached the European Cup semifinals.
Benfica is making its 13th group-stage appearance in the last 14 seasons. It finished first last season in a group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.
“It’s not how we wanted it to go," Tengstedt said. "We wanted to go to the knockout phase but now that’s not possible. We will have to give everything we can to go to the Europa League. Then we will see.“
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The Associated Press