The Portuguese Diary – February Edition: Porto Take the Lead in the League, Sporting Sack Domingos PaciA?ncia, Contrasting Fortunes in Europe


February has turned out to be a vital month in the 2011-2012 season for Portuguese football. In the past month, the face of the league has changed completely and the Portuguese clubs had contrasting fortunes in Europe, while the Portuguese National Team played a friendly match against Poland, there was no action in the Cup or in the League Cup, but that didn’t make the month any less eventful.

The following is a summary of everything that happened in Portuguese football over the past month.


The Portuguese League

February was a great month for Porto and Braga in the Portuguese League, and a dire month for the two Lisbon clubs, Benfica and Sporting.

Benfica held a five point lead over Porto one month ago, but a surprising 1-0 defeat at GuimarA?es (their first of the season) and a 0-0 draw at AcadAi??mica made Porto catch them before the Benfica vs Porto match in Lisbon. The worst was yet to come, though. Porto managed to win the key contest 3-2 at the EstA?dio da Luz in one of the most exciting games of the season, with Hulk scoring one of the greatest goals in recent memory. In a very hard fought contest, Emerson’s sending off ultimately made the difference, with Porto’s Maicon getting the winner in the dying minutes. In just three games, Porto went from having a five point deficit to leading with a three point cushion and they are now clearly in the pole position to retain their league title.

A team that also took advantage of Benfica’s slump was Braga. After winning all their four games in the past month, Braga have now won 10 league matches in the row (a club record) and they are in third place with the same points as Benfica and only three behind Porto. With Lima in free-scoring form and the rest of the team stepping up as well, Leonardo Jardim’s outfit has every reason to believe that they can continue their dream run and fight for the title until the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sporting have reached new lows. Despite taking the team to the Cup final, a 2-0 defeat at MarAi??timo sealed Domingos PaciA?ncia’s fate. The pressure from the supporters was too much and PaciA?ncia got sacked a day after that defeat. Club legend Ricardo SA? Pinto took over the reins until the end of the season, but things don’t seem to be getting much better, if at all. In his first two games, Sporting beat both PaAi??os de Ferreira and Rio Ave 1-0 at home with two very lackluster performances (and a wonder goal from Marat Izmailov against Rio Ave), and then they lost 1-0 at VitA?ria de Setubal (with another poor performance). Sporting are now 14 points behind Porto and 11 points behind Benfica and Braga, which means that, bar a miracle, there will be no Champions League football for the Lisbon giants next season.

MarAi??timo have continued their impressive form, winning their first three games of the month in convincing fashion and then losing 1-0 at GuimarA?es. Ai??They now have the same points as Sporting. VitA?ria de GuimarA?es also continued their impressive comeback under Rui VitA?ria, also with three wins (one of them against Benfica) and one defeat (albeit a very heavy one, a 4-0 in their local derby against Braga) this month and still have a chance to reach Europa League qualification as they’re only six points behind MarAi??timo and Sporting.

The fight to avoid relegation has also become a bit more clear. 13th place team VitA?ria de SetA?bal have opened a three point gap over Beira Mar and Feirense and five over Leiria. These three sides now look the most likely to occupy the two relegation spots, although a simple good streak could change it all at any moment. PaAi??os de Ferreira, who seemed doomed at one point, now have a four point cushion over the relegation zone after a few good results. Olhanense, Nacional and Gil Vicente look like they’re relatively safe at this point.

Overall Standings (after 21 games):

1-FC Porto ai??i?? 52 points

2- SL Benfica ai??i?? 49 points

3- SC Braga ai??i?? 49 points

4- Sporting CP ai??i?? 38 points

5-MarAi??timo ai??i?? 38 points

6-VitA?ria de GuimarA?es ai??i?? 32 points

7-Olhanense ai??i?? 26 points

8-Nacional ai??i?? 25 points

9-Gil Vicente ai??i?? 23 points

10-AcadAi??mica ai??i?? 22 points

11-Rio Ave ai??i?? 21 points

12-PaAi??os de Ferreira ai??i?? 21 points

13-SetA?balai??i?? 20 points

14- Beira-Mar ai??i?? 17 points

15- Feirense ai??i?? 17 points

16- UniA?o de Leiria ai??i?? 17 points


Portuguese Teams in Europe

 

Benfica are in the last 8 of the Champions League, with Axel Witsel in great form

All four Portuguese teams played the first round of their respective European competitions during this past month and they had quite different fortunes. In the Champions League, Benfica managed to overcome an excellent Zenit side 4-3 on aggregate. The Russian outfit won 3-2 at home in the first leg, in a game played under extremely cold conditions and a pitch of very questionable quality. While defensive mistakes cost Benfica the match, the two goals scored away from home (by Maxi Pereira and Oscar Cardozo) opened up excellent prospects and Benfica was very confident ahead of the second leg despite their relatively poor league form.

Just like they had done at Porto in the group stages, Zenit came to Portugal with a very defensive gameplan and they were very successful containing Benfica during the first half. But a somewhat lucky goal from Maxi Pereira in the first half’s added time gave Benfica the advantage in the tie and it all became easier from there. Zenit had to attack, leaving gaps in their defense to be exploited. Eventually, Nelson Oliveira confirmed Benfica’s qualification with the second goal in the dying minutes of the match. Benfica have reached the last 8 of the Champions League for the first time since 2005/2006 and they will now look to win their third Champions League title. While they are not tipped as favorites, their performances so far give them reasons to dream and to believe. The quarter-final draw will be on March 16.

Sporting also advanced to the next round of the Europa League, with a 3-2 win on aggregate of Legia Warsaw. After a 2-2 draw in Poland, a direct free kick from Matias Fernandez sealed Sporting’s place in the next round, although the performances were everything but convincing.

Braga were somewhat unlucky in their tie against Besiktas, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Helder Barbosa got sent off early in questionable fashion in the first leg in Portugal and, playing against 10, Besiktas would go on to win 2-0. Many believed that the tie was over, but Braga refused to give up; they scored in the first half in Turkey (through the inevitable Lima) and they tried until the very last minute to get a second goal and take the tie to extra time. They didn’t succeed, but, while they won’t be able to defend last year’s final, Braga left the competition with their heads held high, having done everything to beat a very good Besiktas side.

Finally, Porto were a tremendous disappointment. While their league performances improved a lot, their Europa League title defense was nothing short of catastrophic. Ai??A comedy of errors over the 180 minutes, including a pretty baffling own goals and incredible defensive blunders, saw Porto lose their tie against Manchester City by an embarrassing 6-1 score on aggregate. Beating the Premier League leaders would never be an easy task, but Porto didn’t even give themselves a chance in this tie and ended up being the biggest disappointment among all Portuguese teams in Europe.

Manchester City will be Sporting’s next opponent in the Europa League, with the first leg being played tomorrow in Lisbon and the second leg one week later. TheAi??Citizens are obviously huge favorites in this tie, especially considering Sporting’s current predicament and it’d come as a huge surprise if they failed to eliminate the only Portuguese team still remaining in the Europa League.


The Portuguese National Team

Portugal played a friendly match in Poland on February 29, their first preparation match for the Euro 2012. The match was very uneventful, as the 0-0 scoreline suggests. Paulo Bento used this opportunity to rehearse his tactics ahead of next summer’s Euro 2012 and to give some new player a chance to prove their worth.


Player of the Month in Portugal

Lima (Braga)

Braga's Brazilian striker has been on fire

 

The 28-year-old Brazilian forward is having his best ever season, with 21 goals in all competitions so far. In the past month, he scored in every league match, including a fantastic hat trick against Gil Vicente, making him the top scorer of the Portuguese league along with Oscar Cardozo, with 16 goals. If Braga are having such a fantastic campaign again, part of it is due to their in-form star striker.


Goal of the MonthAi??

Hulk vs Benfica

Has there been a better goal than this one anywhere in Europe this month?

 

Don’t miss next month’s edition of the Portuguese Diary to find out how the league is evolving, who Benfica’s next Champions League opponent will be, how Sporting will do against Manchester City and much more.

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One Response to “The Portuguese Diary – February Edition: Porto Take the Lead in the League, Sporting Sack Domingos PaciA?ncia, Contrasting Fortunes in Europe”

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  1. Rizwan Ahmed says:

    Fantastic stuff :)