Benfica arrived on Merseyside to be greeted by a rainbow over John Lennon Airport. When they left at midnight, they had practically guaranteed the modest crock of gold that comes with qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League. Everton are certain of nothing and, on this evidence, the only team that would fear meeting them in this competition would be Liverpool.
The scoreline may have lacked the impact of the 5-0 humiliation in Lisbon a fortnight ago that represented Everton's heaviest European defeat, but the gulf in class was just as evident in the second half. They might have claimed that Oscar Cardozo, whose header had struck the post before the interval, was offside when he stabbed home a loose ball in the 76th minute but there would have been few other arguments with the result. The only consolation was that AEK Athens and Borisov drew in the Greek capital, leaving Everton still masters of their own destiny.
In the Stadium of Light, they had been overwhelmed by the 21-year-old Angel di Maria, who was kept in rather better check here by Leighton Baines. It was perhaps no coincidence last night that Everton collapsed shortly after the introduction of the veteran Pablo Aimar. The counter-attacks became ever sharper and Di Maria had already forced goalkeeper Tim Howard into a fine, one-handed save before a slightly-scuffed one-two with Javier Saviola forced the breakthrough just past the hour.
In Lisbon, David Moyes' side been horribly undermined by injuries and, although the team he was able to field last night was rather more seasoned, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Sylvain Distin squandered obvious chances at either end of the game. "We lacked quality going forward and the confidence is not great because we are not playing well," Moyes said. "The goals we conceded were not like those in Lisbon. They were not beautiful goals. They were the result of poor defending." But they were goals, nonetheless.
Everton (4-1-3-1-1) Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Distin, Baines; Rodwell; Gosling (Jo, 69), Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov; Cahill; Yakubu (Agard, 81). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Coleman, Duffy, Baxter, Wallace.
Benfica (4-1-3-2) Julio Cesar; Amorim, Sidnei, Luisao, Luiz; Garcia; Di Maria, Ramires (Pereira, 45), Coentrao (Aimar, 61); Cardozo, Saviola (Felipe Menezes, 87). Substitutes not used: Quim (gk), Shaffer, Maxi Weldon, Nuno Gomes.
Referee: S Ennjimi (France).