Rangers led 3-1 with 13 minutes to play after Diogo Goncalves found his own net and goals from Glen Kamara and Morelos followed Nicolas Otamendi’s red card.
But Rafa Silva pounced on a Filip Helander error, before substitute Darwin Silva levelled late on.
Steven Gerrard’s men remain unbeaten in second place in Europa League Group D.
But this draw will feel like a defeat having dominated so much of the contest against the group leaders in Lisbon, who have now gone 25 Europa League matches without defeat at home.
It speaks volumes about Rangers’ overwhelming supremacy that so many in away colours will come away devastated at taking a mere point in the back yard of such a formidable opponent.
That, though, is not how things began. In the early skirmishes, Gerrard’s troops flailed. The Benfica opener, after barely 60 seconds, was a grievous act of self-harm and hinted at a long and painful night.
Helander, who had a desperate evening, ballooned a clearance to Silva. The forward bamboozled him en route to the by-line before his cut-back cannoned in off Connor Goldson.
At this point, Benfica were swarming Rangers’ half. The ball fizzed neatly between the red jerseys, and Pizzi ought to have made it 2-0 but dragged across the face from inside the box.
The game turned in a heartbeat on 19 minutes – one flash of attacking incision; one act of defensive anguish. Steven Davis floated a huge parabola in behind a high Benfica line for Ryan Kent, and the careering forward was clipped and decked by Otamendi. It was a stonewall sending-off and it jolted Rangers into life.
Jorge Jesus sacrificed the devilish forward threats of Pizzi for veteran centre-back Jardel, but it did not stem the tide that soon became a torrent cascading towards the home goal.
Imbued with a new-found belief, Rangers roared forwards. Davis, on the right this time, sent James Tavernier clear up the flank, and the captain’s square ball was viciously – and comically – lashed into his own net by Goncalves. The ball whizzed home like a wild five-iron slice off the tee.
There was nothing slapstick about Rangers’ second, arriving less than a minute a later as they landed a wicked double-blow. Morelos galloped down the same right touchline and his drifted cross-field pass hit the feet of Kamara. The Finn chopped on to his right foot and caressed a brilliantly placed low shot beyond Odysseas Vlachomidis.
In the second half, predictably and poignantly, Morelos had an emphatic say on his 37th European outing. The Colombian scooped in Tavernier’s piercing square ball to shatter the 21-goal record set by club titan Ally McCoist.
There were more out there for Rangers too, and how they will regret not seizing those opportunities. Kent clipped a post after being cannily teed up by Ryan Jack, then swerved wide from a similar position. Tavernier was agonisingly beaten to a through-ball by Vlachomidis and then the goalkeeper blocked Morelos from point-blank range.
Even then, there was no indication of an impending fight-back, no sign of a pulse in the flat-lining home side. Silva soon changed that, pouncing on another Helander error to force past Allan McGregor, before, in the 91st minute, Nunez cantered clear and planted a shot into the Rangers net and a dagger into Rangers’ hearts.
It was a brutal and punishing blow, denying Gerrard’s men a third win from three in the group, top spot in the table, and an almighty away victory.
Man of the match – Steven Davis
- Benfica remain unbeaten in all 24 of their Europa League home games since the competition was rebranded in 2009, winning 19 and drawing five.
- Rangers conceded three goals in a match for the first time in 20 games in all competitions (1-3 vs Bayer Leverkusen in March). Indeed, they shipped more goals tonight than they had in their previous nine games in all competitions combined (two).
- There were just 88 seconds between Diogo Gonçalves’ own goal equaliser for Rangers, and Glen Kamara giving the Scottish side the lead.
- This was the fourth different Europa League game in which both sides netted an own goal, with half of these now involving Rangers (vs Benfica tonight, and vs Spartak Moscow in November 2018).
- Connor Goldson’s own goal to give Benfica the lead was the fastest ever own goal scored in the Europa League (60 seconds).