Benfica outclass hapless Porto to retain League Cup

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Porto and Benfica met in the cobweb-filled Algarve stadium for the final of the Carlsberg Cup, Portugal’s League Cup.

The competition may have been small for the ever-thrilling Clássico, but there was more than a simple trophy at stake.

Had Porto won the game, they would have had the same number of titles as Benfica, which meant the was being used as a tool by which to settle any debates over which side is the best in the country.

Porto suffered a setback in the middle of the week as star performer Silvestre Varela – who was on the verge of being included in the 2010 World Cup squad – fractured a fibula and will miss the remainder of the season.

With Mariano González also injured, Fernando Belluschi returned to the team to play in the right side of the midfield.

On the other hand, having his full squad available, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus opted to make a few changes as Oscar Cardozo, Javier Saviola, Javi Garcia and Ramires were all dropped.

Alan Kardec – the hero against Marseille – was given a starting berth alongside Pablo Aimar, with the latter playing in a more advanced role.

If any moment summed up Porto’s season thus far, it would have to be Benfica’s first goal.

In the first real opportunity for the Reds, Ruben Amorim attempted a timid long-range shot and Nuno produced a massive howler to gift the Eagles with the lead in the 10th minute.

The veteran goalkeeper was given a rare start as a reward for his professionalism and experience, but when one of the leaders in the locker room makes a blunder as a big as this one, things will naturally get more difficult.

Just before the break, Carlos Martins – always up for some shooting practice – unleashed a powerful 35 yard free-kick that barely gave Nuno a chance and virtually killed off the match.

The second half was pretty uneventful, with Porto lacking ideas (and players…) and Benfica simply focused on controlling possession and keeping it simple.

Nevertheless, the Eagles would grab a late goal to add some gloss to the scoreline; Ruben Amorim played a beautiful one-two with Saviola and his flicked effort hit the post before Paraguayan predator Cardozo tapped in and piled more misery on their rivals.

Man of the match: Airton
Ruben Amorin was heavily involved in two goals, but the former Flamengo defensive midfielder put in an eye-catching display to take the plaudits. Replacing Javi Garcia in the starting XI, the 20 year-old Brazilian marshalled the midfield and looked more of a seasoned performer than an exciting prospect. Jesus now has one of those headaches every manager welcomes as it will be difficult to leave one of Airton and Garcia out.

Talking points
is – now more than ever – a lonely man on his last days trying desperately to bow out in a way he actually deserves. It seems obvious that the club needs to press the ‘reset’ button at the end of the season so there is no way he can stay at the helm of the club.

Last time Porto started over, Mourinho assembled a squad that went on to win just about everything. Could change reinvigorate the Dragons again?

Porto skipper Bruno Alves displayed some disgraceful behaviour on the field, delivering some vicious tackles and even kicking some Benfica players on more than one occasion.

Alves was always known for his toughness, but the way he lost his cool clearly indicates that something is not right at the club. Should he be stripped of his captain’s armband?

Quote of the past week
Porto defender Miguel Lopes – who started the match against Benfica – brilliantly claimed that “the morale was high” ahead of the match against Rio Ave for the Portuguese Cup semi-finals. Seriously Miguel? After getting crushed by Sporting, Arsenal and Benfica, how on Earth can morale be high at the club? Definitely, one of those “insert foot in mouth” moments... More to read...
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