Sporting plummet as Braga show their strength

ROUND 18 RESULTS: Sat Feb 6 Sporting 1-2 Académica, Setúbal 1-1 Benfica Sun Feb 7 Olhanense 1-0 Nacional, Marítimo 1-0 União de Leiria, Rio Ave 2-0 Leixões, Guimarães 1-2 Paços Ferreira, Porto 3-0 Naval Mon Feb 8 Belenenses 1-3 Braga

Sporting's game against Académica was intended to prove that the heavy loss to Porto was just a bad day at the office.

Instead, it showed that the 2009/10 season is one to forget.

Credit to Académica for playing a good game and winning three invaluable points.

The jury may still be out for Florent Sinama-Pongolle, but the Frenchman is yet to convince The Portugeezer he’s better than academy product Carlos Saleiro, let alone the Lions' spearhead.

For Carvalhal’s sake, the €6.5 million signing better start scoring...

Before facing Setúbal on Sunday, Benfica had played União de Leiria in midweek to give them more preparation time for the Europa League – and presumably to put more pressure on Braga.

They had few problems in beating Leiria 3-0, but Setúbal was a different story.

It was a good TV match: lots of action at both ends and a fair result.

The Eagles have every reason to feel disappointed with dropping two points, but Setúbal forwards Hélder Barbosa and Keita were worthy opponents for the Benfica defenders.

Curiously, two own-goals settled the tie with David Luiz registering a one-of-a-kind moment.

As Setúbal were pushing for a leveller, the highly-rated defender botched an easy clearance and scored a bizarre own goal.

Hilarious or atrocious? You decide...

Oops-a-daisy... watch it here or click the pic

Porto and Braga didno’t miss the opportunity to cut the gap with Benfica and enjoyed two comfortable victories.

Braga went to bottom-placed Belenenses and recorded a resounding 3-1 win despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour.

Without Vandinho and Mossoró, Braga showed off their strength in depth as Luis Aguiar and Matheus were directly involved in the goals.

Porto cruised against Naval in a match that looked more like a warm-up exercise for the Dragons than an actual challenge.

Goals from Tomás Costa, Falcao and Varela built the final score and they’ll be looking to heap more pressure on their title rivals.

On the up

Porto and Paços de Ferreira.

Ever since Rúben Micael arrived, the Dragons look a different team: assured and with a meaner edge.

This is the best Porto of the season and it couldn’t have shown up at better stage.

Paços de Ferreira built on their home win against Académica as they stunned Guimarães away.

They're now up to eighth and preparing to host Sporting – now only five points ahead of them in fourth – in what will be a very intriguing match.

Going down

As if things weren’t already bad for Sporting, they fell to yet another loss at home.

Still reeling from defeat at Porto, the Lions were powerless to prevent an organized Académica side from winning.

Where do they go now?

Goal of the round

This one is a toss-up. It could be Paços de Ferreira defender Ozéia making many dead-ball specialists blush when he curled in a long-range free-kick against Guimarães.

Or it could be Wason Rentería – who returned to Braga in January – scoring his team's third at Belenenses to cap another solid performance.

After stealing the ball from a defender, the Colombian ran into the box and finished with a delightful chip somewhat reminiscent of Davor Suker at Euro 96.

Talking points

* Are Braga the best team in Liga Sagres? Vandinho and Mossoró weren’t able to play but Matheus, Luis Aguiar and Rentería shone for the club.

* In the fourth and final European spot but chased by half a dozen teams within five points of them, could Sporting miss out on Europe? Or are they “too big to fail?”

* Can Belenenses pull off a 'Great Escape'? The odds are against them, but there are definitely worst squads in terms of talent. What do you think?

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