Sporting out of the title race as Braga show credentials

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Round 17 Results: Fri Jan 29 Braga 1-0 Sporting Sat Jan 30 Naval 1-0 Belenenses, União de Leiria 2-0 Olhanense, Nacional 0-4 Porto, Benfica 3-1 Vitória Guimarães Sun Jan 31 Vitória Setúbal 2-2 Rio Ave, Paços Ferreira 2-1 Académica Mon Feb 1 Leixões 1-2 Marítimo

In a weekend filled with intriguing match-ups, Braga-Sporting was undoubtedly the main event.

With seven wins in a row, the Lions were hoping to take something away from this match, but Braga's 1-0 win wiped away any lingering doubts that they are genuine title contenders.

The better side over the 90 minutes, the Arsenalistas controlled the game for large periods.

Paulo César scored the only goal of the match in the first half and Braga’s rock-solid defence kept the Lions at bay.

Hail César: "And are you gonna believe us...?"

Porto went to the island of Madeira expecting a tricky affair against Nacional, but came away with a resounding 4-0 win.

It all started when full-back Álvaro Pereira made the most of contact in the box; the referee awarded a penalty and a red card for Alex Bruno.

Varela scored from the spot and the floodgates opened, with goals from Radamel Falcao (twice) and Varela again making an emphatic statement: They’re back!

Rúben Micael, debuting for Porto in the League, produced an impressive performance that will certainly make the Dragons' supporters believe that every trophy is still winnable.

Benfica hosted Guimarães trying to avenge their Cup defeat and keep the pressure on leaders Braga.

Guimarães impressed once again with their quick, counter-attacking style posing problems, but would fall short this time – eventually.

The Eagles scored first when Pablo Aimar dribbled past a defender and beat goalkeeper Nilson, but Guimarães leveled when ex-Benfica playmaker Nuno Assis finished a good team move.

In the second half, Carlos Martins justified Jorge Jesus's decision to replace Brazilian Ramires in the starting XI, scoring two good long-range goals to hand the Eagles another important three points.

"See?!" Carlos Martins makes his point

On the up

It’s hard to be on the rise when you’re pretty much up there, but Braga passed yet another stern test and showed why they should be taken very seriously.

They handled a fired-up Sporting side like a top European team, opening a 15-point gap between the two teams.

Going down

Leixões and Académica.

Leixões could have escaped the relegation places at home to Marítimo, but even though they scored the first goal, they would eventually be undone by the Islanders.

Académica thought they were about to grab three vital points at Paços de Ferreira but two late goals from the hosts stunned the Students, who are now just two points outside the relegation zone.

To make matters worse, they travel to Sporting next weekend.

Goal of the round

If there was a match that summed up Carlos Martins’ career so far, it was this one against Guimarães.

The fiery midfielder scored two good goals but would also get sent off, showing once again that every time he does something good, he messes up just a few moments later!

Still, his second goal is good by any standard.

Finding himself with plenty of room to move forward, Martins took a few steps before delivering an unstoppable screamer.

No chance for the Guimarães goalkeeper… or any other.

Talking points

*Are Sporting out of the title race? Can they salvage anything this season?

*Rúben Micael made the transition to Porto with apparent ease. Is he the Lucho-type of player that Porto needed all along?

*Braga can OFFICIALLY be regarded as title contenders. They boast strength in depth and are high on confidence. Can they be stopped?

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