Ryan Babel is left perplexed after receiving the red card in the first half
By Mark Ashenden
Benfica's Oscar Cardozo scored twice as 10-man Liverpool lost a lively first leg of the Europa League quarter-final.
The Reds took the lead when Daniel Agger back-flicked a clever Steven Gerrard free-kick after nine minutes.
Liverpool's Ryan Babel then saw red for pushing Luisao in the face, and Cardozo levelled from the spot after Emiliano Insua had hacked down Pablo Aimar.
Fernando Torres missed a one-on-one before Cardozo scored another penalty after Jamie Carragher had handled.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insisted success at the home of the Portuguese table-toppers would be down to "attitude" rather than specific tactics and his team rarely let him down, despite being edged out in an enthralling battle.
Coming four years after Benfica ended Liverpool's Champions League hopes with two wins in their last-16 clash, Benitez will see this as a fine result after his players fought for much of the game with 10 men.
Although a five-man midfield, anchored by the recalled Lucas and Javier Mascherano, suggested a cautious approach, the Reds grabbed the precious prize of an away goal after only nine minutes.
After being tripped on the edge of the box by Maxi Pereira, Gerrard side-footed the free-kick to the unmarked Agger who flicked into the net from eight yards out, silencing the Estadio da Luz stadium.
The goal was as spectacular as it was surprising with the hosts having conceded only 12 league goals all season, as well as it being the defender's first goal of the season.
Agger was immediately in the thick of the action at the other end as his sliding tackle denied Cardozo at the back post after a penetrating bending cross from the lively Angel di Maria.
Benfica, so impressive in their demolition of Everton in October in the same competition, were beginning to carve open the visitors' defence and Aimar and Di Maria both went close to an equaliser.
It was on the half-hour though that the game came to life when Liverpool were reduced to 10 men after a puzzling flurry of cards by Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson.
Luisao hacked down Torres from behind and was rightfully shown a yellow card, but then Babel needlessly pushed the centre-half in the face and was dismissed.
After a long protest and confusion the Liverpool forward eventually walked off as Luisao survived.
But as the Portuguese team continued to rampage forward in search of an equaliser before the break, the Liverpool defence were equal to the task.
As well as worrying about his numerical inferiority at the interval, Benitez would also have been cursing his luck after watching Insua pick up a booking to rule him out of the second leg.
The second half continued in similar vein and Benfica were finally rewarded just before the hour and it was all down to the man who had just missed two glorious headed opportunities.
After Cardozo was fouled by Agger outside the box, the Benfica striker crashed a free-kick against the upright and as the Liverpool defence panicked, Insua mistimed his challenge on Aimar.
Cardozo showed no fear in powering his low penalty past Pepe Reina for his 29th strike of the season.
The hosts were soon screaming for a second penalty, but this time the referee rejected the appeals following Carragher's reckless boot going into Cardozo's chest.
The pace of the game was relentless and Liverpool should have added to their total on the breakaway. Dirk Kuyt threaded a ball through to Torres but the Spaniard uncharacteristically dragged his shot wide of the left post when clean through.
The home supporters were soon in full voice when Carragher hurled himself at a Di Maria cross and with the defender's hands thrust forward at the ball, the assistant referee showed no hesitation in signalling for a penalty.
Cardozo calmly stepped up and dinked the ball once again to the left of Reina.
Apart from a weak Gerrard shot, Liverpool rarely threatened from then on, but they will still strongly fancy their chances with the return leg at Anfield next week.