Jesus on verge of leading Benfica to title

LISBON - Though he lacks Jose Mourinho's dashing looks and Carlos Queiroz's globe-trotting lifestyle, unfashionable coach Jorge Jesus will become a hero to many Portuguese football fans if he guides Benfica to the league title at Porto on Sunday.

Benfica, by far Portugal's most-supported club, are six points ahead of surprise package Braga with two games left and can win their first title in half a decade by earning a draw at Porto's Dragon Stadium.

"We feel closer to the title," Jesus told reporters after Benfica thumped Olhanense 5-0 on Saturday. "With the end of the league closer and a six-point lead, things are easier, we have every chance, but cannot launch the fireworks before the party."

Lifting the trophy would be the high point of the straight-talking 55 year-old's career. After a journeyman playing career, his early years as a coach were spent in the lower divisions.

A traineeship at Johan Cruyff's Barcelona in the 1990s eventually paid off and Jesus took Belenenses and Braga to fifth places, prompting Benfica to call for his meticulous training, tactical acumen and motivational skills.

"The players will play double what they did last year, and double, maybe, is too little," he said when presented as Benfica coach last June.

His relationships with fellow coaches can be stormy, as bitter words with Domingos, the coach who succeeded him at Braga, showed. Former players, however, are full of praise.

"In Portugal, no one works like him. His methods are fantastic and he is always attentive to detail," said midfielder Hugo Leal who played under Jesus at Belenenses.

At Benfica, Jesus has created a goal-scoring machine with a Latin American flavour. Argentine winger Angel di Maria has shone brightest, compatriots Javier Saviola and Pablo Aimar have recovered some of the glow lost in their latter years in Spain, and Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo has been the main finisher.

Winning the title on Sunday in Porto would also be symbolic of Benfica's revival. After "wily old fox" Giovanni Trapattoni, as he is endearingly known, led them to the top in 2005, Benfica hired a succession of coaches who could not repeat the feat. Meanwhile, Porto dominated, winning four championships in a row.

After selling key players last summer, Porto had an inconsistent season, plagued by injuries and suspensions. But with burly Brazilian forward Hulk back in the side from suspension they have won their last six games.

With Porto's fight for a Champions League spot all but lost - they are five points behind Braga - the home side will play for pride and to stop Jesus setting off his fireworks at their own ground.

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