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Portuguese Football Column: Porto’s mixed week, Guimarães continue strong start and more

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Filipe Ribeiro analyses and gives his opinion here on the talking points in Portuguese football.

Talisca Julen

After the international break, we saw heavy action in Portuguese Football with a week where all three major competitions were played. With a myriad of games and a couple of surprises, there was something for everybody, so let us waste no more time and dive right into it.

First Cup ties for top division clubs

The Portuguese Cup held its third round, the first where the top tier clubs are involved. The draw put two giants together in Porto and Sporting, who were to meet in Porto’s ground less than a month after their 1-1 tie at Alvalade in the League. The highly anticipated clash ended with a surprise 1-3 defeat for the home side who were uninspired all afternoon, scoring an own goal to open the scoring. Jackson then tied the match before another mistake by the Porto defense saw Nani put the visitors in front again with a nice shot from outside the box, just before half-time and at the restart, Porto were given a penalty but the opportunity was missed by Martínez, who failed to beat Patrício in goal. Porto never really recovered psychologically and Sporting ended up sealing the win with an 83rd-minute goal by Carrillo. The Lisboans made the most out of their opponents’ mistakes and deserved to go through, leaving the northern giants out of the competition at the first hurdle, losing their first shot at silverware this season.

Elsewhere there were a couple of other disappointments for First Division sides, with Estoril, Boavista, Académica and Arouca all following Porto out of the competition. Champions Benfica tinkered heavily with their starting lineup and had to work hard to get past Sporting Covilhã, with a hat-trick from new boy Jonas eventually giving them the 2-3 win.

Meanwhile the fourth round has already been drawn, with a Minho derby on the cards between Vitória SC and Sporting Braga. With Porto out though, Benfica and Sporting (who drew Moreirense and Espinho, respectively) have to be considered favourites to reach the final, if they don’t clash in an earlier round that is.

Different fates in Europe

 This week also had European fixtures, with five Portuguese clubs playing in the Champions League and Europa League. Regrettably, only Porto won their match, with Benfica drawing their game but all others lost their ties.

After being knocked out of the domestic Cup, Porto had another match at home, this time against Athletic Bilbao, for the third round of the Champions League group phase. Tensions were running high already due to the Sporting loss and things got even worse when Guillermo Fernández scored the equalizer courtesy yet another Porto mistake, after Herrera had put the home team 1-0 up. Fan favourite Quaresma then came on from the bench and made everything better by scoring the winning goal. Some would say Quaresma proved he deserves to be in the starting lineup, manager Julen Lopetegui would argue it only proved his rotation policy is beneficial and that Quaresma did his job like everyone else in the squad. Whether you agree with one or the other, the fact remains that Porto are now top of their group and only a total debacle would see them miss the round of 16 in this year’s Champions League.

Unfortunately, Porto seem to be the only Portuguese club with any chance of that, seeing as both Sporting and Benfica are now last in their respective groups with only a single point each.

It was an epic night in Gelsenkirchen as 10-men Sporting came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game against Schalke, only to see their feat get squashed by an injury time ghost-penalty awarded to the German team. The referee adjudged that there was a hand ball when replays clearly show it hit left-back Jonathan Silva in the face. Sporting have already placed a formal complaint with UEFA, which will probably be inconsequential; the Leões are in fourth place ahead of their home game against the Germans.

Benfica didn’t have a lot of luck against AS Monaco either, in a 0-0 draw in which the biggest event was the sending off of Champions League debutant Lisandro Lopez that gave Benfica little hope of coming out of the principality with anything more than their first European point of the season. They have their work cut out for them if they want to go through, with their next match at home against the French side, a do-or-die step in that direction.

With regards to the Europa League, neither Estoril nor Rio Ave were able to cope with the superiority of Dinamo Moscow and Steaua Bucharest, respectively. Both sides lost 2-1, although Estoril played at home. Whenever clubs outside the big three play in Europe, one gets the chance to really find out the gulf in quality between that second line of Portuguese clubs compared to the rest of Europe, something that will hopefully change in the future. Another curious fact is that Estoril are arguably in a tougher group than Rio Ave, yet hold three points, just one shy of second placed PSV and can still dream of qualifying, but Rio Ave haven’t been able to earn a single point and are now all but out of the competition after the first three matches; however, the Vila do Conde club are 9th in the Portuguese League with almost double the points of 15th placed Estoril. This inexperience in coping with both domestic and international matches is also part of that difference in quality we were talking about.

The fourth round of European games is often essential, and that will definitely be the case for every one of the five teams representing the country in the international competitions. Hopefully by the end of the group phase, at least three out of the five are still alive (even if one or two of them drop from the Champions League to the Europa League).

Back home, first loss for the champions 

The Primeira Liga returned after a three week interruption, and despite not introducing too many shifts in the table, there were a couple of important results.

Guimarães continue to have a stellar start to the season after winning 0-1 at Setúbal. Rui Vitória’s boys have been the surprise package of the league so far and are sitting in third place just a couple of points away from the leaders.

Speaking of whom, Benfica lost their first match in the league at the hands of SC Braga, in the match of the week. An early Talisca goal (which makes him joint top scorer in the league) gave the champions the lead in Braga, as they looked generally livelier in the first thirty minutes, before Éder equalized in a venomous counter attack by the home side. From that point on, and especially in the second half, Benfica never quite regained control of the midfield, where Pedro Tiba and Danilo controlled proceedings after Braga’s shaky start to the game. Manager Sérgio Conceição took advantage of what seemed like a tired Benfica team (Jorge Jesus made only one change from the midweek lineup) by inserting pace on the wings in the form of Salvador Agra and Sami with the former scoring his first ever senior goal for Braga to win the game. Benfica are still top of the table –although now by a smaller margin to second-placed Porto – but they haven’t really found their stride yet, at least not like what we’re used to seeing from Jesus’ men. The inclusion of Samaris is still a work in progress, and out-of-form Lima is their only real top striker, which can be a problem if the Brazilian doesn’t regain his form soon. Talisca on the other hand can’t stop banging them in, with Benfica’s goal coming from him again, and he now shares the top scorers’ first place with Jackson Martínez and Marítimo’s Maazou, both of whom scored in Porto’s 0-5 win against Arouca and Marítimo’s 4-2 loss with Sporting, respectively.

Another positive note is Paços de Ferreira, where returned manager Paulo Fonseca – after his failed season with Porto – has now broken his own record for the best start to a season by Paços, are now tied for fifth place with Braga, two points behind Sporting.

Off  the pitch

The Portuguese League association held its elections and Luís Duque, a former Sporting CP board member, is the new president. The last elections had been clouded by a bureaucratic mess that saw the former president win basically by default, so a new process was started that culminated with today’s election. Hopefully the League and its members, the professional clubs, can move forward and address the multitude of problems that afflict Portuguese football. The new president gathers the consensus of the vast majority of the clubs, including Benfica and Porto, but isn’t supported by his own ex-employer, Sporting, who are actually in litigation against Duque. Certainly more to come from this in the coming months.

TALENT RADAR Player of the Week

Juan Quintero (FC Porto): The fourth-placed midfielder in Outside of the Boot’s 100 Best Young Players To Watch Out For In 2014 list scored a great opening goal in his side’s 5-0 win away to Arouca, after already being involved in the opener in midweek, against Athletic. Quintero has been upping his performance every week, and it will be curious to see if Lopetegui continues playing him as winger or finally starts him in the center of the park, where the Colombian, despite lacking in the defensive department, is at his most dangerous creating chances.

Written by Filipe Ribeiro

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