The Portuguese Diary ai??i?? September Edition: Porto And Benfica Draw, Sporting On Fire, Portugal Beat Cyprus 4-0

September was a good month for Portuguese football. It started with Portugal getting a crucial 4-0 win in Cyprus, a win that represents a huge step towards the Euro 2012. Besides, Portuguese teams have done very well in Europe during this past month, all of them having very good prospects of advancing to the next stage in their respective competition. The league remains very tight at the top, with Porto and Benfica leading the pack with 17 points each. The two giants came face-to-face last week at the DragA?o Stadium, with Benfica snatching a late 2-2 draw that only makes the league more unpredictable. A lot has happened in Portuguese football since last monthai??i??s edition of the Portuguese Diary, as you will find out below.

The Portuguese League

Each team played four league matches during the month of September (games in hand excluded). The top teams at the end of August -Benfica, Braga and Porto – remain at the top of the league, but the biggest revelation of the month has been Sporting.

After a disastrous start with only two points in the first three games, Sporting have won six games in a row in all competitions, four in the league, and now sit only three points behind Porto and Benfica at the top. The crisis seemed set to continue when, in their first match after the international break, Sporting found themselves 2-0 down to PaAi??os de Ferreira with only 15 minutes left to play. But a fantastic and improbable late comeback saw Sporting win 3-2, and the result might have completely changed the clubai??i??s fate this season. That win, and the way it was obtained, was the confidence boost Sporting needed to get back on track. After another shaky 3-2 away win at Rio Ave, Sporting played their best football in recent memory to demolish VitA?ria de Setubal 3-0 at Alvalade, before winning 1-0 at VitA?ria de GuimarA?es, despite playing with 10 men for 70 minutes.

Domingos PaciA?ncia still has a lot of work to do, but there are finally signs that Sporting might be able to mount a serious challenge for the title this season. The past few performances have been encouraging and the new signings are settling in quite well. Insua and Rodriguez have brought more consistency to Sportingai??i??s backline, Rinaudo, Schaars and Elias have brought creativity and spark to the teamai??i??s midfield and Ricky Van Wolfsinkel has been on fire in front of goal, with six goals in the past six games. Letai??i??s also not forget Diego Capel, Jeffren Suarez (currently injured) and Carillo, who are the quality wingers Sporting had lacked for many years. Overall, itai??i??s a much stronger squad than last season and PaciA?ncia seems to have finally found a way to take the best out of it. Sporting have looked like genuine contenders lately, although it remains to be seen whether they can keep up the good work.

Ricky Van Wolfsinkel – 6 goals in 6 games for Sporting.

Braga have comfortably won their home games this month, but their poor away form currently puts them three points behind the leaders. They drew 1-1 at GuimarA?es and lost 1-0 at Leiria. They will need to improve their away performances if they wish to fight for the top spots.

The two top favorites Porto and Benfica remain unbeaten in the league (in fact Porto are unbeaten in their last 46 leagues matches, with 41 wins and 5 draws). Porto, unexpectedly, drew 0-0 at Feirense right before the classic against Benfica – a result which insured that the two teams were level on points before facing each other. Playing at home, Porto dominated the game and was always in the lead (1-0 and 2-1), but a late goal from GaitA?n allowed Benfica to snatch a somewhat undeserved point at the turf of their biggest rivals. Both teams got back to winning ways after this game, with Porto winning 0-3 at AcadAi??mica and Benfica winning 4-1 at home against PaAi??os de Ferreira.

Maritmo are having a great start to the season; after a draw and a defeat in their first two games, they won four games in a row and drew the last one, sharing third place with Braga and Sporting. Theyai??i??re unlikely to keep this up, but they look like a safe bet for a Europa League spot at the end of the season.

AcadAi??mica also had a great start to the season, and are now sixth with 12 points. They had won all their home games quite comfortably before they hosted Porto, and theyai??i??re playing some of the most entertaining football in the league. VitA?ria de GuimarA?es have been playing better under new manager Rui VitA?ria, but theyai??i??ve still only collected four points and are far from a European position at the moment; to be fair, it doesnai??i??t help that they faced Benfica, Sporting and Braga during this past month. PaAi??os de Ferreira have also been struggling under new manager Luis Miguel and theyai??i??re also stuck with four points.

The league remains tight, with no clear definition. The only thing that seems apparent is that Porto, Benfica, Sporting and Braga will be the top 4 (with Porto and Benfica as main favorites to win the title), itai??i??s still too soon to say who will be fighting for European places and who will be in the fight to avoid relegation. Rio Ave are the only side with no victories so far, but they tend to start slowly under Carlos Brito and improve their form as the season goes on, so they shouldnai??i??t be tipped for relegation yet. Maybe the next month will make the picture a little clearer, as far as who will be fighting for what is concerned.

Overall Standings (after six games)

1-FC Porto ai??i?? 17 points

2- SL Benfica ai??i?? 17 points

3- SC Braga ai??i?? 14 points

4- Sporting CP ai??i?? 14 points

5-MarAi??timo ai??i?? 14 points

6-AcadAi??mica ai??i?? 12 points

7-VitA?ria de SetA?bal ai??i?? 10 points

8-Olhanense – 9 points

9-Gil Vicente ai??i?? 8 points

10-Feirense – 7 pontos

11- Nacional ai??i?? 7 pontos

12-Beira Mar ai??i?? 6 points

13- UniA?o de Leiria ai??i?? 6 points

14- VitA?ria de GuimarA?es ai??i?? 4 points

15- PaAi??os de Ferreira ai??i?? 4 points

16- Rio Ave ai??i?? 2 points

Portuguese Teams in Europe

Four Portuguese teams played in European competitions during the month of September: Porto, Benfica, Braga and Sporting. The first two in the Champions League, the latter two in the Europa League, and all have had at least a relatively good showing so far.

Porto started the Champions League well, beating Shakhtar Donetsk at home 2-1 in a very difficult game. The Ukranians scored first but an amazing goal from Hulk and another goal from Kleber gave Porto a deserved win after they dominated for most of the 90 minutes. On matchday 2, though, Porto lost 3-1 in Russia against Zenit; Porto were the better team during the first half, but everything changed when Jorge Fucile got naively sent off for a needless handball. Playing with 10 at a very difficult ground, Porto were unable to handle the Zenit onslaught; they are now level on points with the Russians, one point behind Apoel Nicosia and two points ahead of Shakhtar. The double fixture against Apoel Nicosia will be crucial for Portoai??i??s aspirations, and in theory Porto are expected to win those.

Benfica also started the competition very well, drawing at home 1-1 with last seasonai??i??s finalists Manchester United. Benfica, who managed to dominate the English champions, were ahead thanks to a Cardozo goal and probably deserved a better result, but a draw wasnai??i??t bad at all, especially since it was followed up with a 0-1 away win (courtesy of a Bruno CAi??sar goal) at Otelul Gatati on matchday 2. Benfica and Basel now lead the group with 4 points, with United in third place with 2 points. Benfica are in an excellent position ahead of their double fixture against Basel and if all goes well they should definitely advance to the next stage.

In the Europa League, SC Braga started extremely well, with an emphatic 3-1 away win at Birmingham that seemed to indicate they would not struggle to advance. But last seasonai??i??s finalists surprisingly lost at home against Club Brugge on matchday 2, despite dominating the match. Their poor finishing and primary defensive mistakes cost them the three points. Qualification isnai??i??t in serious jeopardy yet but they will need to beat Maribor, which shouldnai??i??t be that hard given Mariborai??i??s poor showing so far.

Sporting, on the other hand, have been unstoppable, just like in the league, and they won their first two matches, away against Zurich 2-0 and at home against Lazio 2-1, with the in-form Wolfsinkel finding the net in both games. In the game against Lazio, Sporting played with 10 men for most of the second half (Insua got sent off), but even that couldnai??i??t derail their winning streak. Theyai??i??ve now won six consecutive games in all competitions. Sporting now lead the group with 6 points, four ahead of Lazio and Valsui, and they look certain to advance to the next stage.

Overall, it was a positive month for Portuguese teams in European competitions. Each of the four teams won at least one of their two group games, and all still keep their aspiration to advance to the knockout stages intact, with Sporting almost guaranteed to advance. All four will play their third group game in October, and a win will make each of them very close to advancing to the next stage. On paper, all the games are very winnable for the Portuguese sides; Benfica will be favorites against Basel, the same for Porto against Apoel, Braga against Maribor and Sporting against Valsui. October promises to be a great month for Portuguese teams in Europe. Seeing all four in the knockout stages is definitely very possible.

Portuguese National Team

In the beginning of September, Portugal got an absolutely crucial 4-0 win at Cyprus. It wasnai??i??t an easy game at first but it became easy when Cyprus had a man sent off. Real Madridai??i??s Cristiano Ronaldo was the man of the match, with two goals (one from the penalty spot) and one assist in a game in which Portugal didnai??i??t feel the absence of Ricardo Carvalho.


Ronaldo played a defining role in the victory over Cyprus

Carvalho claimed that he wonai??i??t play for the Portuguese National Team while Paulo Bento is the manager, making it apparent that there was some sort of conflict between him and Bento. Whatever might have happened, itai??i??s time to move on; the likes of Pepe and Bruno Alves are more than competent enough to lead Portugalai??i??s defense.

Portugal will now play two absolutely decisive games, at home against Iceland on October 7 and away at Denmark on October 11. A win against Iceland will guarantee at least a place in the playoffs, while a draw in Denmark would ensure first place in their group. Losing in Denmark will almost certainly force Portugal to go to the playoffs. Obviously, October will be a very important month for the National Team – it will decide whether or not Portugal will be in the Euro 2012.

Overall Standings

1-Portugal ai??i?? 13 points/6 games

2-Denmark ai??i?? 13 points/6 games

3-Norway ai??i?? 13 points/7 games

4-Iceland ai??i?? 4 points/7 games

5-Cyprus ai??i?? 2 points/6 games

Remaining matches:

Iceland home (7 October)

Denmark away (11 October)

Player of the Month in Portugal: Ricky Van Wolfsinkel

This award can only go to Sportingai??i??s 22-year-old Dutch striker. Sporting won all their six games in September and Wolfsinkel scored 6 goals in 6 matches; he was truly a revelation this month. His backheel goal against Lazio was particularly excellent. Other than the goals, he showed amazing work ethic and great link-up play. Sporting really do seem to have found the right striker this season.

Donai??i??t miss next monthai??i??s edition of the Portuguese diary to find out how the league is shaping up, whether the Portuguese clubs are close to reaching the knockout stages in their respective European competitions and if Portugal will be in the Euro 2012 next summer.

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One Response to “The Portuguese Diary ai??i?? September Edition: Porto And Benfica Draw, Sporting On Fire, Portugal Beat Cyprus 4-0”

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  1. Pedro says:

    Ridiculous… How is it possible!? The guy in the picture is Hélder Postiga and not Ricky Van Wolfsinkel as it is said in the legend