Braga keep up the pressure on Benfica as title race hots up

RESULTS Fri Apr 23: Rio Ave 0-0 Marítimo; Sat Apr 24: Vitória Setúbal 2-5 Porto, Benfica 5-0 Olhanense; Sun Apr 25: Nacional 1-1 Paços Ferreira, Leixões 1-3 Académica, Naval 0-4 Braga, Leiria 1-1 Sporting; Mon Apr 26: Vitória Guimarães 2-0 Belenenses

Wow, what a terrific weekend for the Portuguese League!

Not so much for a particular match – though there were plenty of goals – but mostly due to the myriad of people that flocked to the stadiums in support of their team. Why can’t it be like this week in week out?

With the European places pretty much decided, the main interest was to see whether this round would produce the 2009/10 champions.

Benfica hosted Olhanense on Saturday hoping a good result would heap the pressure on Braga and cause a wobble, and the Eagles executed the first part flawlessly.

If the 62,000 supporters were not enough to push the home side on to victory, Olhanense midfielder Delson was.

The Brazilian handled Weldon’s cross inside the box in the third minute and would be sent off just five minutes later when he made a reckless tackle on Angel di Maria.

After Oscar Cardozo scored from the spot, Benfica never looked in trouble of dropping any points and naturally created many opportunities throughout the match.

Di Maria scored the second goal and in the second half Cardozo would go on to complete a hat-trick before Pablo Aimar added some gloss to the scoreline as it finished 5-0 to the league leaders.

Many teams may have crumbled under that pressure to perform, but not so this incredible Braga side.

Seven thousand roaring supporters travelled to Figueira da Foz and must have left the stadium with a strong sense of pride as Braga dominated the match and thrashed Naval 4-0.

Uruguayan playmaker Luis Aguiar broke the deadlock in the 24th minute with a stunning free-kick, and then when Brazilian forward Matheus doubled the title chasers’ advantage a few minutes before half time, everyone knew any title decision would be left to the final two matches.

Six points continue to separate both teams and Benfica will now visit their nemesis Porto next weekend.

Considering Benfica’s poor record at Porto, the bad blood between the two clubs this season and the Dragons’ hunger to inflict some damage to their rivals, one may think everything will be settled in the final day.

It would certainly make an intriguing end to this season, but let’s wait and we’ll see how the ‘Clássico’ plays out next week.

Elsewhere, in-form Porto striker Radamel Falcao received a controversial yellow card in the match against Setúbal that makes him unavailable for the titanic clash against Benfica.

After all the controversy with the harsh punishments of Hulk and Sapunaru, have Porto genuine reasons to feel aggrieved? We will discuss this in greater detail come the end of the season, but will the 2009/10 campaign ultimately be tainted by these off-field quarrels?

Vitória Guimarães are ending the season on a high as they close in on a respectable fifth place finish. As announced last week, manager Paulo Sérgio will be heading to Sporting next season in a somewhat surprising move by the Lions.

The Guimarães manager has a CV in many ways similar to Carvalhal’s which begs two questions:

1) Is Paulo Sérgio the right man to bring silverware to the club?
2) Are Bettencourt and Costinha showing lack of ambition by signing a manager who is unproven at top level?

Leixões wasted a good chance to close the gap on Olhanense and now have just one more chance to avoid the much-dreaded demotion to Liga Vitalis.

Fernando Castro Santos’ men are four points behind Olhanense and the two will be facing one another next weekend.

Anything less than a victory and Leixões will accompany Belenenses on the painful summer journey to the second tier of Portuguese football. Can they do the unthinkable and leapfrog the Algarvians in the league table?

Goal of the round

Braga star Luis Aguiar takes the cake because he scored two good goals. The first, as mentioned above, was a delightful curler from 30 yards out that paved the way to his team’s victory.


His second goal, though not as good, was a clever lob that settled the match in Braga’s favour. Are FC Porto regretting the decision to ditch him two years ago? More to read...
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