At least Tottenham Hotspur could hold their heads high and look a relieved Benfica in the eye when Damir Skomina blew his final whistle. From a hopeless position, they had given their illustrious opponents an almighty fright on their own ground and even though they are out of Europe, for once there is no need for an inquest into Tottenham's failings. In the end, the heart and endeavour they showed came too late and a place in the last eight of the Europa League is Benfica's instead.
If Tim Sherwood, who watched the entire match from the director's box, does have any regrets, it will be that Tottenham only truly had Benfica on the run in the final 10 minutes of this tie. It would be disingenuous to claim that Benfica were anything other than comfortable before that point and when Ezequiel Garay put them 1-0 up on the night and 4-1 up on aggregate, nobody inside this vast stadium was expecting such a frenzied finale.
Yet Tottenham stirred, dragging themselves back into the match after Nacer Chadli scored twice in the space of a minute. There have been too many occasions this season when they have crumbled at the first sign of trouble, a point forcefully made by Sherwood in the past fortnight, but not here and who knows what might have happened if a penalty had been awarded for Miralem Sulejmani's push on Harry Kane? Jan Oblak also had to perform heroics in the Benfica goal but eventually Tottenham were caught on the break as they chased the goal that would have forced extra-time, conceding a late penalty to lose 5-3 on aggregate.
Glorious failure for Tottenham, then, and perhaps that is their problem, because while their belated resilience was admirable, it is no good playing when the pressure is off. Mistakes are punished ruthlessly at this level and Tottenham simply gave themselves too much to do by losing last week's first leg 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
Overcoming that deficit with a full-strength side would have been daunting enough, but Tottenham were missing 11 players because of injuries and suspensions. They required one of their greatest ever performances in Europe if they were going to make the impossible possible.
The sight of Aaron Lennon wearing the captain's armband summed up the threadbare nature of Sherwood's squad and with their European hopes hanging by a thread, Tottenham had four teenagers on their bench, none of whom had a single minute of first-team action between them. As if that was not enough, Sherwood had no senior centre-backs available and Sandro dropped back from midfield to partner Zeki Fryers in defence, perhaps explaining why Benfica's manager, Jorge Jesus, was confident enough to leave Rodrigo on the bench. He opened the scoring last week.
Yet Tottenham were not overawed by the occasion in the early stages. They set about Benfica briskly, passing the ball confidently and getting their wingers involved whenever they could. What was letting them down, though, was a lack of conviction in front of goal.
It was another trying evening for Roberto Soldado, a £26m striker who looks anything but at the moment. While his work-rate cannot be faulted, his finishing left much to be desired and it soon became obvious why he has scored one goal in 2014. The Spaniard had time and space when Gylfi Sigurdsson's corner fell to him at the far post, yet he snatched at the ball abysmally and sent it over the bar. It was a costly miss and Soldado could not complain when he trudged off disconsolately to be replaced by the eager Kane in the second half.
While Tottenham's makeshift defence mostly coped well with Benfica's attack, they could not hold out for ever and when Salvio beat Lennon with an outstanding piece of trickery on the right, his stabbed cross was powerfully headed past Brad Friedel by Garay after 34 minutes.
It felt like the goal would rob the evening of all drama and tension. Even Sherwood had decided this was not a night for flying gilets in the dugout. He wore a suit and tie in the director's box rather than his usual outfit, explaining that it was better if he stayed away from Jesus, whose bizarre antics had irritated him so much last week. Instead Sherwood, who must now attempt to revive Tottenham's league campaign, sat and watched behind Daniel Levy. For future reference, it is a probably a good idea for a Tottenham manager to keep his chairman where he can see him.
From that vantage point, Sherwood had a fine view of Tottenham's fightback. With 12 minutes left, Chadli drove home from outside the area, before the Belgian reacted sharply to a loose ball and slashed high into the net from six yards out.
Benfica, who had been cruising, were rattled and soon Lennon was running clear, only for his cutback to fall to a red shirt. Not long afterwards Sulejmani appeared to shove Kane in the back, before Oblak had to push Sigurdsson's header away. A goal was coming, or so it seemed. But Benfica broke, won a penalty and Lima finally finished Tottenham off. Glorious failure, then.