European Matchday 4: Well done Portugal
Matchday 4 of the European competitions is over and the rubble is starting to settle.
Again, the Portuguese teams did well in the main. FC Porto guaranteed qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages and it's almost certain that Benfica (who did the double over Everton) and Sporting will advance to the next phase of the Europa League.
Unfortunately, NacionalÃ¢ÂÂs fairytale campaign is about to end...
Champions League Group D: APOEL 0-1 Porto
Porto were already in a strong position and in Cyprus they did enough to claim all three points without exactly impressing.
With all due respect to APOEL, the gulf in quality and experience between the two teams is so big that the Dragons didnÃ¢ÂÂt even have to get into fifth gear to win both matches.
After a brief dry spell, Colombian star Falcao grabbed the winning goal for the Dragons in the 84th minute to ensure the team will reach the last 16 for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Jesualdo Ferreira's men can now focus on domestic affairs.
Their form has been patchy and they currently trail Braga and Benfica, although only by five and two points respectively Ã¢ÂÂ and let's not forget they've also won the league six times in the last seven.
The next Champions League match against Chelsea will be interesting.
If they beat Carlo Ancelotti's side, they might top the group, which would be a massive confidence boost.
But even if they end up second, theyÃ¢ÂÂre familiar with the underdog role. In other words, they have nothing to lose and will surely enjoy the next Champions League group matches.
Europa League Group I: Everton 0-2 Benfica
After hope and expectation bordering on delusion and arrogance, Benfica were brought back down to Earth by last weekendÃ¢ÂÂs defeat against SC Braga.
With the Eagles renowned for bottling under pressure, pundits were curious to see how the team would react.
Jorge Jesus opted to deploy David Luiz on the left and brought Sidnei back to the starting XI, probably to cope with Everton's more direct style.
Perhaps it was an unorthodox decision, but one that paid off as the back-line looked composed and capable of shutting the opposition down.
The first half was a close contest, with neither team willing to take many risks.
Everton started on top but the Eagles gradually gained control of the midfield and just minutes before the break, Cardozo hit the post with a header from a FÃÂ¡bio CoentrÃÂ£o cross.
After the break, Benfica realized they could do better than a draw.
Di Maria Ã¢ÂÂ quiet for most of the first half Ã¢ÂÂ lost his shyness and started to wreak havoc in the Toffees defence.
The Argentinian squandered a great chance created by Cardozo, but redeemed himself by creating the opening goal for Saviola.
Substitute Pablo Aimar marshaled BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs midfield to control possession and Cardozo's goal killed the match off.
With a professional performance, the Eagles lead the group and should finish top.
Europa League Group D: Sporting 1-1 Ventspils 1
Should Paulo Bento call it a day? (Edit: He did on Friday). That was the debate after Sunday's sluggish 1-1 home draw with Maritimo.
The last thing the coach needed was another sluggish 1-1 home draw with a team Sporting should regard as beneath them.
A win against Latvian side Ventspils would have instantly clinched qualification, but Sporting showed no ideas or passion.
Psychologically, the Lions are at rock bottom and the players donÃ¢ÂÂt look like they are able to overcome that situation on their own.
Bento deserves sympathy but he has run out of excuses and might soon run out of time.
Isolated, jeered by the fans and trying to pretend heÃ¢ÂÂs not on life support, he simply has to win the next game Ã¢ÂÂ especially because thereÃ¢ÂÂs international football the following weekend.
Nevertheless, as far as the Europa League goes, Sporting have virtually sealed qualification and only a shock of seismic proportions would prevent them from getting to the next phase of the competition.
The question may be whether Bento is still around.
(Postscript: Within an hour of this blog going live, Bento resigned. We're not saying the two are linked - Ed.)
Europa League Group L: Nacional 1-1 Athletic Bilbao
If Europa League matches lasted 75 minutes, Nacional would already have qualified for the Round of 32.
But for some odd reason those 15 minutes like to punish the Islanders.
It was deja vu all over again as Nacional failed to hold on to a positive result in the last minutes. HereÃ¢ÂÂs a breakdown of what happened in their matches:
- Werder Bremen (h): Nacional equalised on 75', Bremen scored on 84Ã¢ÂÂ to win 3-2
- Austria Vienna (a): Vienna equalised on 76Ã¢ÂÂ to claim a 1-1 draw
- Athletic Bilbao (a): Having been behind, the Basque side scored on 86Ã¢ÂÂ to win 2-1
This time, it was Joseba EtxeberriaÃ¢ÂÂs turn to deal another blow to the Islanders in the 84th minute.
Nacional may rue their luck, but they're simply inexperienced at this level.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂre a good team with a good manager and a solid structure, but to be able to swim in the ocean with the big fish you need more.
They didnÃ¢ÂÂt possess the mental strength to deserve that luck, but hopefully theyÃ¢ÂÂll learn the lesson and will bounce back in the league.
This result all but decides their fate and only a win against Austria Vienna would give them a sense of achievement and restore some of their pride.
But just in case, better to ask the referee to stop the match at the 75th minute!
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