Extinguished Dragons snuffed out of title race

There are still eight matches to go, but after a disappointing home draw against Olhanense it's fair to assume that Porto are out of the title race. It looks like for the first time since 2005, the Dragons won't be Portugal's league champions.

Eight points off the pace going into the weekend, the holders couldn’t afford to lose any more points – but despite the poor showing against Sporting the previous Sunday, few would have guessed that it would be the Algarvian side to deal a potentially fatal blow to the champions.

FEATURE Super Sporting pummel poor Porto

Olhanense – who possess five Porto loanees and (perhaps not coincidentally) are managed by Champions League-lifting legend Jorge Costa – started the match in bullish mood and went two up within 20 minutes. Nevertheless, the home side would gradually assume complete control of the match and watching the second half was like witnessing a shooting squad desperately trying – and failing – to kill a stubborn hare.

Porto hit the post twice but it would only be in the later stages that they would level. Radamel Falcao scored in the 81st minute and fellow countryman Freddy Guarín got the second in the last attack of the match to snatch a hard-fought draw that tasted as sour as the loss against Sporting.

Jorge Costa: You have to hand it to him

Longtime pace-setters Braga couldn’t do any better either as they were held to a boring 0-0 draw by strugglers Setúbal. They might have kept their eight-point gap over the Dragons, but they allowed Benfica – the real winner of this round – to get away.

With Braga and Porto having slipped up on Saturday, the Eagles went into their Sunday game against Paços de Ferreira knowing they could move three points clear at the top. With 43,000 supporters behind them, Benfica started as strongly as usual and when Rúben Amorim got the first goal in the 13th minute, they looked set for yet another eye-catching scoreline.

Saviola scored a second and the team created several opportunities through some delightful moments of free-flowing football, but it was Paços de Ferreira that got a goal just before the break. Maykon – an interesting player with a good left foot – sent a terrific cross to the onrushing William, who scored his 10th goal of the season and kept the game on.

Half-time gave the home side a meaner edge and they ultimately killed off the match when Cardozo’s deflected shot beat the inspired Coelho. Nevertheless, The Portugeezer has to throw his hat off to Ulisses Morais and his team who, unlike many visitors to Estádio da Luz this season, never stopped trying even after being 2-0 down early in the match.

Only one of these men did not score

Meanwhile, Sporting went to basement boys Belenenses to pile more misery on the home side with another big result, striker Liédson scoring all four of the Lions' goals.

While his team might not climb any higher than fourth – they're nine points behind Porto – they seem to have found their feet and will hope to make amends with their supporters in the remaining matches of the season.

On the upBenfica cemented their first place and put in a solid performance that will give them confidence for the tough remainder of March. If they’re as good as they claim, now's a good time to prove it.

Going downIn a matter of just two weeks, everything simply fell apart for Porto. They seemed to back to their best when they hammered Braga, but then lost to Sporting and were held by Olhanense. They're now in serious danger of not playing Champions League football in 2010/2011 – a far-fetched scenario at the beginning of the season.  They still have two cup finals to play, but Jesualdo Ferreira’s era at the club is just about to end.

Goal of the roundGuimarães continued their good form with a 2-0 win over Nacional and their second goal was a joy to behold. Veteran playmaker Nuno Assis received the ball on the left before cutting inside and cleverly assisting Desmarets who immediately dispatched the ball into the back of the net.

We also have a surprise this round. It's not every time that Liga Vitalis – Portugal’s second-tier – grabs the spotlight, but a goal in the match between Beira-Mar and Chaves has to be mentioned. That one-of-a-kind moment happened when Beira-Mar striker Élio finished a cross from the left with a cheeky back-heel effort that will be a contender for goal of the season

Talking points* Sporting have scored 10 goals in the last three matches and impressed against Belenenses. With reports about André Villas-Boas being lined up to replace Carvalhal next season, can the current manager still change president Bettencourt’s mind?

* Jesualdo’s time at Porto is now all but over, but who’ll replace him next season? André Villas-Boas, Paulo Bento, Domingos Paciência... or Jorge Costa?

* Benfica continue to look strong and will now face five critical matches: Marseille (home and away), Nacional (away), Porto (League Cup final) and Braga (home). Will they confirm their status as the best team in Portugal this season or will they crack under pressure?

Round 22 Results: Fri Mar 5 Leiria 2-1 Leixoes Sat Mar 6 Porto 2-2 Olhanense, Rio Ave 0-0 Naval, Setúbal 0-0 Braga Sun Mar 7 Marítimo 0-0 Académica, Belenenses 0-4 Sporting, Benfica 3-1 Paços Ferreira Mon Mar 8 Vitória Guimarães 2-0 Nacional

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