Benfica edge closer to title after derby success

RESULTS Tue Apr 13: Benfica 2-0 Sporting; Mon Apr 12: Vitória Setúbal 1-1 Académica; Sun Apr 11: Marítimo 3-3 Belenenses, Leixões 2-0 Paços Ferreira, Vitória Guimarães 1-1 Olhanense; Sat Apr 10: Leiria 1-2 Braga, Rio Ave 0-1 Porto; Fri Apr 09: Naval 0-0 Nacional.

As the title race goes down to the wire, the much anticipated clash between Benfica and Sporting was the highlight of the round.

Even though the Eagles enjoyed a six-point gap to title chasers Braga, they knew an eventual loss against the pressure-free Lions would weaken their position as they still have to play Porto away.

Furthermore, tradition in the Lisbon derby says that the team playing worse is usually the team that ends up winning the match.

Maybe that’s why it wasn’t that surprising to see Benfica starting the match in a way reminiscent to how the Portugeezer plays FIFA on the Playstation: with no creativity and an uncanny ability to remain in his own midfield. Not that Sporting were doing much better though as striker Liédon barely had any support from their teammates.

At half-time the 0-0 result flattered the Eagles and for a while it seemed they would settle for a draw instead of going all-out for the win.

The second half was different though as Benfica pushed for a goal and started looking more dangerous. The goal came in the 68th minute as Carlos Martins ghosted past two defenders and his long cross met Fábio Coentrão who assisted Cardozo for the easy tap-in.

If some were expecting some sort of reaction from Sporting, they would be left disappointed as the Lions kept quiet and unable to pose a real challenge to the home side.

The match virtually ended 10 minutes later. Ramires found Pablo Aimar with clevery through pass and the Argentinean dribbled goalkeeper Rui Patricio before sending the ball into the empty net. After that goal, the Eagles cruised to register another invaluable victory and move closer to the title.

No matter how the season will end for Braga –and it seems they will be able to clinch at least the runners-up spot – the 2009/2010 campaign will be a historic one for the Arsenalistas.

Working on a much tighter budget, Braga has played attractive football, made the right moves in the market (and that includes selling right-back João Pereira in January by the way) and were simply a cut above the other ‘non-Big Three’ teams. The fact they’re still going strong under pressure confirms how well they have performed.

On Saturdayl’s match against Leiria, they did what they were asked to, earning a 1:2 success over one of the surprise packages of the season. Leiria scored first, but two goals in 3 minutes from Meyong and Rentería ensured Braga would keep their title bid alive.

At the other end of the table, Leixões were given a lifeline in their quest to avoid relegation as they beat Paços de Ferreira 2-0 at home. It will still be quite tough for them – Olhanense is 4 points away – but at least the 3 points won may give them something to build on.

Can Benfica still finish in second? The match against Sporting was on paper their second most difficult match and should they win at Académica – the other remaining away match apart from the one against Porto – it will be all but certain they’ll be the next Portuguese champions.

This time is for real. Belenenses were saved from relegation last season after Estrela da Amadora were deemed bankrupt. Unless something similar happens – and it doesn’t look like it will – they will be playing Liga Vitalis football next season. And deservingly one must add...

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