From the home of Mourinho, Ronaldo and Xavier
It was the third day of the group stages and, apart from Benfica’s slump at Lyon, it was a positive one for Portuguese football. Braga kept their dream of alive by claiming their first victory in the Champions League, while Sporting and Porto continued their relentless march towards the second phase of the Europa League with empathic wins that give them plenty of reasons to smile.
Braga played on Tuesday against FK Partizan knowing that anything less than a victory would leave them in a bad position to extend their European journey. Manager Domingos Paciência was serious about turning the tide after two heavy losses against Shakhtar and Arsenal and he named four attacking-minded players - Alan, Paulo César, Matheus and Lima - in the starting XI.
The first 30 minutes were played at the pace of a turtle without a single chance for either side; whether it was inexperience at this level, fear of getting dumped or a little bit of both, the fact was anybody watching the match could label the experience about as entertaining as watching paint dry. That is until the 34th minute, when Lima decided to curl an amazing free-kick around the 30-metre mark
Sp. Braga 1-0 PartizanSimão | Myspace Video
A goal that will go down in history as Braga's first ever in the top European competition and a goal that managed to galvanise the then-lethargic crowd at Estádio AXA.
Partizan then tried to move forward and dictate play but were unable to do so and barely created actual goalscoring chances. The match remained uneventful in the second half but Braga would score another goal just before the final whistle, when a quick counter-attack saw Alan set up Luis Aguiar who, in a good position, assisted Matheus for the easy tap-in.
Despite a lacklustre performance, Braga secured a 2-0 victory to keep their dream of qualifying for the second round alive. Even if working that out requires some complex math operations!
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus learnt a lesson this past Wednesday: if you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Before the match against Lyon, Jesus attempted to play some unorthodox mind games by declaring few teams in the world played like Benfica. Well, after the referee signalled the end of the match, he must have felt lucky to get out of Stade de Gerland with just a 2-0 loss. The Eagles showed no heart, no commitment and no creativity whatsoever as Lyon were in full control for the 90 minutes, and their victory was completely deserved.
It could be argued that Nico Gaitán’s pathetic sending-off was a key moment in the match, but Benfica were already finding it difficult to pose real problems for the French backline. Again, and the Portugeezer will repeat this time and time again, the Eagles possesses no width and their forwards are paying the price. The only positive note for them was Roberto’s performance; the Spanish custodian seems to be more confident and made a string of good saves to prevent a worse result.
Still, with only 3 points, the harsh reality is Benfica need to get a win against Schalke – likely to be their direct contenders – and at least a draw against Lyon. The way they’ve been playing this season, can you actually count on that?
Porto travelled to Instanbul to play against Besiktas, arguably their toughest opposition in the group despite missing star duo Ricardo Quaresma and Guti. Bernd Schuster was candid before the match, admitting Porto were a very powerful team, and the Dragons showed why they are a much-respected team in Europe.
Colombian striker Radamel Falcao broke the deadlock in the 27th minute when he towered above a defender to score a header from a corner. The Dragons were in complete control of the match and even had a goal strangely disallowed 10 minutes later. But when Maicon was sent off before the break, it looked like the second half could be a long one for André Villas-Boas’ men. It was a situation akin to the one Benfica faced at Lyon, but the way Porto handled it showed why they are a different team. After sustaining 15 minutes of pressure, the Dragons hit the Turks on the break when Álvaro Pereira found Hulk with a long pass and the in-form forward - with just two touches - put the ball past the hapless goalkeeper.
In the 77th minute, Porto would get their third goal in another display of ruthlessness. After a pass from Belluschi, Hulk outrun his markers, dribbled the last man and put the ball in the top right corner. Beautiful and yet simple.
Besiktas 0-3 FC Porto - HulkHumberto | Myspace Video.
Besiktas would still grab a late goal, but in the end Porto showed they truly belong to the first division of continental football.
Sporting hosted Belgian side KAA Gent and, after having a tough time beating Estoril in the Portuguese Cup, the Lions turned to their European alter ego that so far has ensured eye-catching performances. Paulo Sérgio’s men were in complete control of the match and on another day, they could have added more gloss to an already impressive scoreline that will lift their spirit for domestic affairs. 5-1 was the final result with goals from Diogo Salomão, Liédson (2), Maniche and Postiga.
Both Sporting and Porto now possess nine points and getting through the next round is looking like a mere formality.
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