From the home of Mourinho, Ronaldo and Xavier
The midweek attention may have been on continental competition but in this blog we're looking at last weekend's Portuguese Cup Third Round – the stage at which the top-flight sharks join the competition.
The Portuguese Cup (also known today as Taça de Portugal Millennium) is a pleasing competition for the three main reasons we all love old-fashioned cup competitions: it sets up interesting David vs Goliath matches, occasionally witnesses huge upsets, and puts smaller clubs on the map.
Football pundits often discuss the lack of competitiveness in Portuguese football, how clubs can't cope with the financial demands of a professional sport and what should be done to fix that.
This is a big topic we'll return to later, but let's hope the two governing bodies of Portuguese football – the Federation and the “League” took notes last weekend, because the domestic cup was very encouraging.
People actually went to the stadiums to support their team, ensuring a warm atmosphere and offering one of the most beautiful angles of our football.
Valenciano and Santa Clara claimed the Cup's first scalps by dumping out Olhanense and Marítimo respectively. Valenciano needed penalties but surely won’t mind the wait for a historic win over the Algarvians.
And in a game that pitted a team from Azores against a team from Madeira, Santa Clara – who only missed promotion to the top flight in the last game of last season – were simply stronger and beat a Marítimo side that is looking more and more disappointing.
No such trouble for Benfica and FC Porto, given easy ties against II Divisão (third-tier) sides Monsanto and Sertanense.
The Eagles won 6-0, the Dragons 4-0 – but if the results weren't unexpected, the attendances were a pleasant surprise.
Monsanto vs Benfica was broadcast live on national TV but there were still 10,000 in the ground at Torres Novas – a larger, neutral venue.
Of these, around a thousand were from Monsanto – which might not sound much, but it's the entire population of the tiny village!
Meanwhile, FC Porto commendably sold tickets at ridiculously cheap prices – one Euro per ticket, while Porto’s season ticket holders could watch it for free.
Surely the Sertanense players will never forget the day they played at Estádio do Dragão with 30,000 people watching – even if it is the third time in a row they've faced Porto in the Cup!
Sporting hosted Liga Vitalis (second-tier) side Penafiel and despite being their usual stuttering self, the Lions eased to a comfortable 3-0 win in front of 14,000 people. Liédson was again crucial, scoring the opener.
Both Braga and Nacional had to work hard to make it through. Nacional had to come from behind to overcome a resilient Varzim side.
One down at half-time, the islanders clinched their victory with two wonder goals: Ruben Micael equalised with a volley before Slovenian international Pecnik clinched it with a well-taken free-kick.
Braga only beat Liga Vitalis side SC Covilhã with Matheus breaking the deadlock in injury time with a goal worthy of Robin van Persie.
But they remain unbeaten and look confident – interesting considering the leaders host second-placed Benfica on Halloween...
Food for thought
Should the Portuguese Federation learn from the success of this round and design a more unpredictable cup format?
It would be great to see a Portuguese Cup where every club plays from the very first round.
Such a move wouldn't only help smaller clubs – it would attract more people to the stadiums and spark more rivalries. What do you think?
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