Benfica keep faint title hopes alive as Beavers maintain Euro push
Sporting and Benfica locked horns for another intense derby, as table-toppers Porto were cooly awaiting the outcome of the match having already snuck in their own Round 20 match back on January 26.
For Sporting, with the league season effectively all but over, it was a question of pride. Beating their fierce rivals, who were on a nine-match winning streak in the league, would give the club and the fans a much-needed boost. For Benfica, it was a match they could ill afford to lose if they wanted to keep their faint title hopes alive.
The Eagles started the match on the front foot with a Nico GaitÃÂ¡n-led midfield dictating play and dominating the early exchanges.
Without Evaldo and CarriÃÂ§o, there were fears the weakened Sporting backline wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be able to handle BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs attack, and such concerns were justified when in-form Salvio was quicker than Leandro Grimi to react from a GaitÃÂ¡nÃ¢ÂÂs cross to score the first goal of the match.
The Eagles cruised throughout the first half until Sidnei picked up his second yellow card in the 44th minute, instantly guaranteeing an altogether different tone to the second half.
Jesus replaced Saviola with former Olhanense defender Jardel and, just like the Portuguese Cup match against FC Porto in which Benfica were also forced to finish the match with 10 men, they were able to completely shut out the Lions.
And as Sporting grew frustrated, the Eagles punished them once more. After Carlos MartinsÃ¢ÂÂ free-kick fell to Maxi Pereira on the right, the Uruguayan crossed to the far post where the on-rushing GaitÃÂ¡n connected with a volley that would deflect into the net off of SportingÃ¢ÂÂs Anderson Polga. Not the prettiest of goals, but Jesus certainly didnÃ¢ÂÂt mind.
Paulo SÃÂ©rgio still threw Carlos Saleiro and Diogo SalomÃÂ£o into the fray ina desperate attempt to claw a way back into the match, but Benfica throttled them and prevented them from creating any serious goalscoring opportunities, eventually running out deserved winners.
The major talking point after BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs away success is whether or not they can still be crowned champions this season. The math is simple: if they can win their remaining 10 matches, they will need Porto to drop points in two or three matches.
However, considering the Dragons have only drawn twice this season and Benfica still have some tough matches ahead of them, the odds of that happening are rather small. FÃÂ¡bio CoentrÃÂ£o summed up their situation when he admitted that if there was a match he expected Porto to drop points that would be against the Minho Warriors. The leaders, however, won the match and, their grip on the title is getting tighter and tighter.
We all know that managers and players put a little spin when they talk to the media, whether itÃ¢ÂÂs because they want to curb their enthusiasm or because they want to sugar-coat a slump in form.
However, to hear Sporting assistant coach Alberto Cabral claim that his side enjoyed periods of superiority, that his players worked very hard and that Benfica only got lucky is an insult to Sporting and their supporters.
A club that will always be one of the so-called Ã¢ÂÂBig ThreeÃ¢ÂÂ cannot accept a situation such as the one theyÃ¢ÂÂre in, trailing the leader by 23 points and having a big chance of extending their trophy-less run. Fortunately for them, the upcoming elections will be a perfect opportunity to make a small Ã¢ÂÂrevolutionÃ¢ÂÂ and extinguish the current losing mentality that has affected the team, especially over these past two seasons.
On a high
Benfica for all the obvious reasons. Beating their rivals away from home and reminding Porto that Ã¢ÂÂit ainÃ¢ÂÂt over till itÃ¢ÂÂs overÃ¢ÂÂ will give them a huge morale boost ahead of the upcoming league matches and their trip to Stuttgart for the second leg of their Champions League tie in two weeks time.
Meanwhile, PaÃÂ§os de Ferreira claimed yet another famous victory, this time at Braga, and are now lying in an amazing fifth place - a position that would give them the chance to take on all of Europe next season, should they maintain it. The Beavers havenÃ¢ÂÂt lost yet this year and the team is playing an attractive brand of football under manager Rui VitÃÂ³ria.
On a downer
Braga continued their poor form at the moment and have now a serious fight in hands for a European berth. Against PaÃÂ§os de Ferreira, Braga were outclassed and ended up slumping to a second consecutive home loss. After watching them conquer Sevilla earlier, who could have imagined theyÃ¢ÂÂd be struggling so much? They are currently in seventh place and will host Benfica in two weeks time.
Round 20 Results Thu Feb 18 UniÃÂ£o Leiria 0-1 VitÃÂ³ria GuimarÃÂ£es Fri Feb 19 Portimoinense 1-1 Olhanense Sat Feb 20 Braga 1-2 PaÃÂ§os Ferreira, MarÃÂtimo 1-0 Beira-Mar, AcadÃÂ©mica 0-1 Rio Ave, VitÃÂ³ria SetÃÂºbal 1-1 Naval Mon Feb 21 Sporting 0-2 Benfica.