The Aguias kept their hopes of qualification from the group stage alive with a victory over their Russian opponents this evening, with the Paraguayan striker making the difference
Cardozo wasted no time in leaving his mark on the game after being introduced at the break, scoring two goals in quick succession, the first a powerful header from close range, and the second a well-taken half volley from 10 yards out.
Despite both teams being guilty of conceding a number of free kicks in the opening 10 minutes, the home side were clearly on top as the Spartak defence struggled to deal with the vibrant play of Ola John and Lorenzo Melgarejo playing on the left-hand side for Benfica.
Having started the match distinctly on the back foot, Spartak managed to fashion the first clear goalscoring opportunity in the 13th minute when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov forced a smart low stop from Artur, after the Russia international had latched on to a brilliantly disguised reverse pass from Dmitriy Kombarov.
The Aguias continued to dominate possession despite that Bilyaletdinov chance, and very nearly took the lead in the 22nd minute only for Eduardo Salvio to blast a shot into the side netting after the ball fell invitingly to him inside the Spartak penalty area, as the away side failed to clear their lines following Artem Rebrov's diving save from Lima's curling effort.
The visitors' full-backs, Kirill Kombarov and Evgeniy Makeev were enduring an increasingly torrid time as the first half wore on, as Benfica looked to play the ball out to John on the left and Salvio on the right, whenever they could.
Rodrigo came within inches of making it 1-0 to the hosts in the 40th minute, but could only look on in anguish as his devilish free kick from the right flew just wide of Rebrov's right-hand post with the Spartak goalkeeper well beaten.
Jorge Jesus made an attacking change at the break, bringing on Cardozo for Rodrigo, yet it was Spartak that came close to taking the lead early in the second half through Bilyaletdinov. The attacker wasted his second chance of the evening though, firing straight at Artur after some fine build-up play involving Ari and Dmitriy Kombarov.
After having one finely-taken effort ruled out for offside just minutes after being introduced, Cardozo then gave Benfica a legitimate 1-0 lead with a close-range header in the 55th minute. Melgarejo was instrumental as he ghosted into the box on the left, before lifting a perfect cross to the Paraguayan striker, who then headed the ball downwards past Rebrov and into the back of the net.
Spartak moved Evgeniy Makeev across from left-back to right-back after Kirill Kombarov was withdrawn following Cardozo's first goal, but this did little to stem Benfica's potent attacking threat down that side of the pitch as Melgarejo and John continued to wreak havoc.
Jesus' decision to bring on Cardozo continued to prove to be an inspired choice as the attacker then struck the crossbar in the 66th minute with a firm header after connecting well with John's inviting corner from the left.
That same duo combined again just moments later to make it 2-0 to Benfica, with Cardozo adjusting his body well to meet John's bouncing cross with his left foot and divert the ball into the back of the net from 10 yards.
Spartak's evening went from bad to worse in the 76th minute as Nicolas Pareja was dismissed for an awful challenge on Cardozo inside the penalty area. However the striker's chance to complete his hat-trick eluded him as his firmly-struck spot-kick was tipped on to the crossbar brilliantly by Rebrov.
Cardozo had one final chance to make it three goals in 45 minutes late in the game, but after racing through on goal he poked an effort just wide of Rebrov's right-hand post under pressure from Juan Manuel Insaurralde.
Benfica's impressive victory this evening reignites their hopes of progressing from Group G, and increased their unbeaten run of home games against Russian opposition to six.