Brilliant Guarín double helps put Porto back on track

Anyone who follows the wonderful world of Portuguese football knows Porto ended 2010 undefeated. For the mainstream media though, that aura of invincibility cracked when the Dragons were stunned by a 2-1 home defeat to Nacional in the League Cup.

It didn’t matter that André Villas-Boas tinkered with his squad, that reserve goalkeeper Kieszek made an incredible howler or even that Porto can still advance to the next stage of the competition with a win in the second leg. What mattered was the w“fact” that Porto were now panicking.  Enter round 15.

The plot thickens, the gap widens

Determined to silence their critics and prove the loss against Nacional was merely a freakish blip, Porto went to the match against Maritimo in bullish mood. It took them 38 minutes to score, but when Freddy Guarín hit a jaw-dropping screamer from around 40 yards, it seemed inevitable that the floodgates were going to open. In the second half, the Dragons were in complete control and ended up enjoying a 4-1 success.

In the most anticipated duel of the round, Sporting entertained Braga, and the match witnessed a typically scintillating start. Sporting’s Diogo Salomão scored in the 11th minute and Jaime Valdés doubled the lead just two minutes later after a poor back pass from Hugo Viana was intercepted by Simon Vukcevic.

Paulo César quickly pulled one back for Braga in the 18th minute, but the game failed to continue to live up to the hype and eventually descended into somewhat of a damp squib. Sporting were definitely happy with the result as they increased the lead over their chasing pack – Uniao de Leiria, Guimaraes, Nacional and Braga.

Speaking of which, Leiria were expected to hand Benfica a stern test, but the Eagles were in no mood to be complacent. Jorge Jesus’s pupils enjoyed their best moment of the season and with a professional display that possessed glimpses of their 2009/10 vintage, comprehensively schooling this term’s surprising package 3-0.

Goals of the round

Goals are definitely like a bottle of ketchup; sometimes you can be banging away for ages with no joy, then suddenly they start to flow almost uncontrollably as if by magic. Therefore, it would be unfair to only laud the obvious wonder goal scored by Guarín, because there are others worth sharing.

Guarín’s first is a contender for goal of the year. With the deadlock yet to be broken, the Colombian midfielder pulled a thunderbolt from out of nowhere (with ‘out of nowhere’ being around 40 yards) into the top corner. It was one of strikes that come off very rarely and his celebration seems to acknowledge that fact.

But if that is Goal of the Week for the Portugeezer, here are four more-than-honourable mentions…

Freddy Guarín (Porto) v Marítmo

If his first goal can be attributed to a slice of good fortune, the second one just oozes class. Having been given room outside the box, the Colombian evaded a defender and with his left foot curled a beautiful shot into the back of the net.

Diogo Salomão’s (Sporting) v Braga

Young Salomão started the match on the bench, but he would soon come off from the bench after Postiga limped out in the eighth minute. This is what happened  three minutes later…

João Alves (Vitória Guimarães) v Naval 

Midfielder Alves received a pass that was perhaps just a touch over-hit, but he decided to try his luck from an unorthodox position. The result? Yet another eye-popping goal...

Javier Saviola (Benfica) v Leiria

Benfica were pressing at that stage but it took an inspired pint-sized Argentinean to give them the lead. Nico Gaitán worked on the left and crossed to the second post where Salvio’s header met an unmarked Saviola who hammered the ball from around 12 yards.

Talking points

Eyebrows were raised when Naval brought in an unlikely man to take on the Herculean task of guiding the club to safety: Carlos Mozer, former Benfica defender and Brazilian international, Mourinho’s former right-hand man and occasional pundit.

He’s their third manager of the season (and, he’ll be hoping, the last) and at the very least is an out-of-the-box option that may lift the club. His reputation as a player was huge, and that can sometimes rub off on the players, and he certainly knows Portuguese football.

The former Benfica defender led his new side to only their second victory of the season away to high-flyers Guimarães. Considering their only previous win dates back to August against Portimonense, this was a particularly encouraging sign.

Braga didn’t play badly against Sporting. Actually, on another night they could easily have left the field with a point which would always be a good result. However, unlike last year, luck is not on their side and they’re not playing well enough to overcome that fact.

The loss of mercurial forward Matheus to cash-rich, yet obscure Ukrainian side Dnipro was a bad omen for the club and with the changes they’re making to the squad, it will be hard to see them pushing for something more than the third place. They may even find themselves having to fight tooth and nail for an Europa League berth come the ‘business end‘ of the season…

ROUND 15 RESULTS Fri Jan 6 Portimonense 3-4 Vitória Setúbal Sat Jan 7 Sporting 2-1 Braga, FC Porto 4-1 Marítimo Sun Jan 8 União Leiria 0-3 Benfica, Vitória Guimarães 1-2 Naval, Académica 0-0 Paços Ferreira, Nacional 0-0 Beira-Mar, Rio Ave 0-1 Olhanense.

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