Only Benfica capitulation save Braga's title dream

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RESULTS Sun May 02: Rio Ave 0-0 Vitória Guimarães, Marítimo 2-0 Vitória Setúbal, Porto 3-1 Benfica, Belenenses 5-2 Leiria, Olhanense 1-0 Leixões, Sporting 0-1 Naval, Académica 3-3 Nacional, Braga 1-0 Paços Ferreira.

You know the old saying ‘It ain’t over till it’s over’? Well, that pretty much sums up the title race in Portugal at this moment.

With decisive issues still to be settled at both ends of the table, all of last weekend’s round 29 matches started at 20.15 GMT adding an extra bit of intrigue and excitement to the Liga Sagres.

The matches at Porto and Braga could have decided the title – they didn’t by the way but you probably knew that already – while Leixões had their last chance to avoid relegation as they visited fellow strugglers Olhanense.

The ever-fierce ‘Clássico’ between Porto and Benfica hogged the media spotlight in the week running up to the penultimate round of matches, as newspapers tried to milk the clash in every conceivable way (other than literally).

However, even with such big hype-job, the Portugeezer found the match to be a fairly lukewarm affair, and that’s probably being generous.

From the start it seemed clear that Benfica were happy to play for the draw, while Porto wanted to avenge their Carlsberg Cup final defeat and make their fierce rivals pay for the infamous tunnel controversy that helped derail their season.

The Dragons broke the deadlock three minutes before the break when Bruno Alves scored with a powerful header from a corner, but when Jorge Fucille was sent-off at the beginning of the second half, it looked like the tables would be turned.

Brazilian centre-back Luisão would eventually level matters in the 56th minute, but the Eagles’ celebrations were short lived as forgotten striker Ernesto Farías would put Porto in front again just 3 minutes later.
The game remained delicately poised until Fernando Belluschi produced a piece of magic in the 82th minute.

The Argentinean playmaker nutmegged Pablo Aimar and unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box that stunned Benfica goalkeeper Quim and sent the stadium into raptures.
After the match, both teams complained about the referee – can they ever stop whining?

Several questions were raised by the two sides: was Porto defender Jorge Fucile wrongly sent-off? Should Fábio Coentrão and Luisão have been sent-off? Should Benfica have been awarded a penalty when Hulk handled the ball in the box? Why was Porto boss Jesualdo Ferreira sent to the stands?

No matter what, after all the dust settles, the fact is Porto were the better team and they taught Benfica a valuable lesson: don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

Since Braga narrowly defeated Paços de Ferreira at home with a goal from Meyong, the 2009/10 champions will be decided in the very last day.

Yet Braga are still left praying for Benfica capitulation on the final day in order to clinch the title. They have to win their match at Nacional and hope Benfica lose at home to Rio Ave, which could be a big ask given the Eagles have dropped just two points at Estadio da Luz this season. If Braga can somehow pull it off, it would certainly make for one of the most amazing league endings ever, wouldn’t it?

Meanwhile, Leixões will accompany Belenenses in the Liga Vitalis next season, as they were edged out by Olhanense at Algarve.

The Matosinhos side has been far from the heights reached last season and rarely looked a top-flight team which is why their relegation doesn’t come out as a surprise.

Just like Belenenses, maybe now it is time to regroup and rethink the way the club has been run.

Talking points

Benfica or Braga: which side will claim the championship? They were definitely the most consistent teams and the ones that played better, so either one of them would be deserving champions.

The odds clearly favour Benfica, but stranger things have happened in life...Regardless of the outcome, kudos to Braga for their incredible campaign and for the Champions League spot. That is a huge, huge achievement in itself.

The Liga Vitalis will also witness a nail-biting finish as five teams can still clinch the much-coveted promotion.

Beira-Mar look to be in pole position as they have 51 points and will host basement boys Carregado in the last match but the other spot is far from settled.

Yet the key clash could be second placed Portimonense's  (51 points) trip to fourth placed promotion rivals Oliveirense (49 points). Elsewhere third placed Feirense (49 points) and fifth placed Santa Clara (48 points) will play against Estoril and Aves respectively.

Anything can happen and it is almost guaranteed that throughout the 90 minutes the top two will change a couple of times. More to read...
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