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Global Soccer: Benfica Heats Up Late in Cold of St. Petersburg

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Nicolás Gaitán, center, scored the first goal for Benfica as it beat Zenit St. Petersburg, 2-1, in the Champions League on Wednesday and advanced to the quarterfinals.

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Anatoly Maltsev/European Pressphoto Agency

LONDON — If there were an award for fan base of the year, the followers of Benfica would have to be candidates.

Before Wednesday, Benfica had not won on Russian soil for 20 years, and it traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, without its first-string goalkeeper and with three members of its back line out because of either injuries or suspension.

That did not discourage 445 hardy Benfica fans from making the 4,500-mile round trip — made longer because there are no direct flights — to cheer on their team in the Champions League in the freezing cold.

The players kept them waiting. For 70 minutes, the action in the Petrovsky Stadium was as frigid as the weather, before things got red-hot at the finish, when two late goals by Benfica allowed it…

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