Portuguese football is going through a period of mixed fortunes: domestically, Sporting’s resurgence certainly promises to make the league much more competitive and interesting, even if the poll of genuine contenders merely increases from two to three; in Europe, the Portuguese representatives have put in decent, even if not great, performances. The National Team on the other hand is once again struggling to get out of a qualifying phase and will almost certainly need to play a playoff round to be at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Portuguese League

One of the big questions going into the 2013/2014 season in Portugal was whether Sporting, with a new president and under a new manager – Leonardo Jardim – would be able to get back on track with a renewed squad made up mostly of young players. So far, it seems like the answer is a resounding yes; after 7 matches, Sporting have notched 5 wins and 2 draws (at home to Benfica and Rio Ave) and have been playing some great football – they also boast the best attack in the league so far with 19 goals scored, mostly courtesy of the sensational Montero, certainly the greatest revelation of this year’s Portuguese League.

Sporting currently rank 2nd in the league three points ahead of Benfica and after the international break they will play Porto – the only team to perform better so far (6 wins and 1 draw) in a match with a lot of significance as far as the league is concerned; a win for the three-time defending champions will see them open up a crucial 5-point lead over both Benfica and Sporting, while a draw or a Sporting win will pretty much confirm that they are the real deal this season and a force to be reckoned with; even if their short-on-strength squad poses some questions over how long they can keep up their form long enough to challenge for the title.

Jackson, Porto

Led by Jackson, Porto are once again in the pole position

Benfica, on the other hand, haven’t had the best of starts to the season at all and have already lost some ground. Keeping Jorge Jesus in-charge, after three seasons without the league title and all the finals lost late last season was a massive gamble and one with dubious results so far; a record of four wins, two draws and one loss doesn’t seem too bad, but it’s a lot of points to lose in Portugal when you’re fighting for the title, not to mention the performances have been very lackluster in general, barring some glimpses of genius from Markovic. If their form doesn’t pick up after the international break, Benfica might very well be looking at yet another trophy-less season.

Among ‘the rest’, Braga seem poised for another top 5 finish under Jesualdo Ferreira, Nacional have been doing quite well so far and are in fourth place, one point ahead of Braga and one behind Benfica. The teams are still mostly really close to each other, with none of the ‘bottom 13’ being particularly impressive so far. A negative mention must go to PaAi??os de Ferreira, who after being dismissed by Zenit in the Champions League playoffs have had a dismal start to their league campaign and currently sit in last place with only 4 points. After the best season in the club’s history, disaster might well be on the way.

Portuguese Clubs in Europe

Benfica and Porto have had similar campaigns in the Champions League group stages so far; Benfica started with a 2-0 home win over Anderlecht, only to lose 3-0 at the Parc des Princes to Paris Saint-Germain, making the next two matches against Olympiakos (also with 3 points from two matches) crucial for their qualification hopes. Porto, on the other hand, started with a 1-0 away at Austria Wien and then lost in pretty unfortunate fashion 2-1 at home against the sensational AtlAi??tico Madrid – they are currently second in the group with three points, two ahead of Austria Wien and Zenit, who will be Porto’s opponent in the next two matches. Both Benfica and Porto have a lot at stake in the next two European matches but both have pretty good chances of advancing to the last 16.

In the Europa League, Braga were shockingly eliminated in the playoff stage by Pandurii from Romania even after winning 1-0 on the road – a 2-0 loss at home after extra time saw their European campaign come to an abrupt and fully unexpected end. PaAi??os de Ferreira were sent to the Europa League after being easily beaten by Zenit in the Champions League playoff, and their European fortunes didn’t really improve much – a 3-0 loss at Fiorentina was followed by a 1-1 home draw with Pandurii (still a better showing than Braga against the same opponent); with two matches against Dnipro coming, PaAi??os de Ferreira’s chances of qualifying are frankly slim to none given their squad strength and form. Finally, Estoril have done great going through two qualifying rounds but they lost two very close matches, 2-1 to both Sevilla at home and Slovan Liberec away. Given how competitive they were in both matches – certainly unlucky to have nothing to show for it – Estoril still have some chances but they need to deliver in the next two matches against Freiburg.

From the early signs, it seems Portugal are headed to their worst European season in recent memory and will fail to take the 4th ranking spot from Italy, for it to happen it’d take a significant increase in performance or perhaps Benfica or Porto getting relegated to the Europa League and making a big run there.

Portuguese National Team

Portugal’s performance in the qualifying stage has been pretty unimpressive; the latest two results have been a pretty fortunate 4-2 win at Northern Ireland and a 1-1 home draw against Israel. Still, despite the lackluster performances Portugal are already assured of a playoff place – which they should contest for the third big event in a row, after beating Bosnia in both the World Cup 2010 and the Euro 2012 playoffs. The only way to avoid a playoff would be by beating Luxembourg at home next Tuesday (very likely), expect Russia to lose at Azerbaijan (not very likely) and overturn a 7-goal swing with Russia at +15 and Portugal +8 at the moment (massively unlikely). Portugal will almost certainly have to win a 2-leg playoff in order to book their tickets to Brazil next year.

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