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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt matter that AndrÃÂ© 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 wÃ¢ÂÂfactÃ¢ÂÂ 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 GuarÃÂn 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. SportingÃ¢ÂÂs Diogo SalomÃÂ£o scored in the 11th minute and Jaime ValdÃÂ©s doubled the lead just two minutes later after a poor back pass from Hugo Viana was intercepted by Simon Vukcevic.
Paulo CÃÂ©sar 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 Ã¢ÂÂ 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 JesusÃ¢ÂÂs pupils enjoyed their best moment of the season and with a professional display that possessed glimpses of their 2009/10 vintage, comprehensively schooling this termÃ¢ÂÂs 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 GuarÃÂn, because there are others worth sharing.
GuarÃÂnÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Ã¢ÂÂout of nowhereÃ¢ÂÂ 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 mentionsÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Freddy GuarÃÂn (Porto) v MarÃÂtmo
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 SalomÃÂ£oÃ¢ÂÂs (Sporting) v Braga
Young SalomÃÂ£o 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 laterÃ¢ÂÂ¦
JoÃÂ£o Alves (VitÃÂ³ria GuimarÃÂ£es) 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 GaitÃÂ¡n worked on the left and crossed to the second post where SalvioÃ¢ÂÂs header met an unmarked Saviola who hammered the ball from around 12 yards.
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, MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs former right-hand man and occasional pundit.
HeÃ¢ÂÂs their third manager of the season (and, heÃ¢ÂÂll 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 GuimarÃÂ£es. Considering their only previous win dates back to August against Portimonense, this was a particularly encouraging sign.
Braga didnÃ¢ÂÂt 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 theyÃ¢ÂÂre 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 theyÃ¢ÂÂre 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 Ã¢ÂÂbusiness endÃ¢ÂÂ of the seasonÃ¢ÂÂ¦
ROUND 15 RESULTS Fri Jan 6 Portimonense 3-4 VitÃÂ³ria SetÃÂºbal Sat Jan 7 Sporting 2-1 Braga, FC Porto 4-1 MarÃÂtimo Sun Jan 8 UniÃÂ£o Leiria 0-3 Benfica, VitÃÂ³ria GuimarÃÂ£es 1-2 Naval, AcadÃÂ©mica 0-0 PaÃÂ§os Ferreira, Nacional 0-0 Beira-Mar, Rio Ave 0-1 Olhanense.