HAIFA, Israel (AP) — Benfica kept pressing and the goals kept coming.
João Mário's long-range strike in stoppage time sealed Benfica's 6-1 rout of Maccabi Haifa that was just enough to secure the Portuguese team a helpful first place in its Champions League group on Wednesday.
Benfica also achieved its best ever group-stage campaign with the win at Haifa, which gave the club 14 points, two points more than its previous best campaign 11 years ago.
Benfica ended tied on points with Paris Saint-Germain, which won 2-1 at Juventus but finished behind Benfica in Group H on the number of away goals scored overall. Benfica and PSG were even on head-to-head games, number of goals scored in all group matches and goal difference overall.
The group winners are drawn with the second-place finishers in the round of 16, meaning Benfica will avoid teams like Real Madrid, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
“We were trying to win the match, and then we felt that it was possible to reach first place as well so we went looking for more goals,” Benfica's Gonçalo Ramos said. “As the game progressed we realized that we could do it.”
Benfica had already secured a spot in the next round in advance.
“We deserved to finish in first place because we played very well throughout the whole campaign, now we will take it game by game as far as we can,” Benfica's Petar Musa said. "It’s an incredible feeling to score in the Champions League. We showed all our quality, our good football and we deserved to win this group.”
Ramos put the visitors ahead with a header in the 20th, and Haifa equalized with Tjaronn Chery converting a penalty kick awarded following a lengthy video review for a handball by Benfica defender Alexander Bah inside the area.
Musa put Benfica ahead with another header in the 59th, Alejandro Grimaldo added to the lead by converting a free kick 10 minutes later, Rafa Silva netted the fourth from inside the area in the 73rd, and Henrique Araújo added a fifth in the 88th.
The victory over Haifa also extended Benfica’s unbeaten run to 22 straight matches this season.
Benfica had already beaten Haifa at home, and it also defeated Juventus twice while drawing both matches against PSG home and away.
Last-place Haifa, whose only group-stage win this season had come against Juventus at home, was coming off a 7-2 loss at PSG in the previous round.
Benfica's last defeat on the road was exactly one year ago when it lost 5-2 to Bayern Munich. Its undefeated run on the road was its longest of any of this season's 32 teams.
Benfica reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season, being eliminated by Liverpool.
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The Associated Press