Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Back from the grave - Sporting beat Benfica

Contrary to last week’s report, Ian Shine die not die after his fall from Lisbon’s Elevador de Santa Justa. 


He was only heavily concussed after, somewhat ironically, landing on a bag of counterfeit football shirts. He is now recuperating in hospital, where he is being weaned back onto football by a team of leading physios and doctors. 


He will be allowed to only watch one Liga Sagres game a week. This week’s game was the Lisbon derby, Sporting vs Benfica.



Build up


As hard as the doctors may try to keep me at a safe distance from reality, traces of news still find their way through.A friend snuck in a copy of Saturday morning’s Record by pretending it was a megaphone – a mode of approach stealthy enough to evade most Liga Sagres defences but not fully trained hospital staff, so I had thought. It turns out Porto had beaten Paços de Ferreira 0-2 on Friday night, a result far from surprising and one which guaranteed them top spot no matter what happened for the rest of the weekend.


Far from dampening attitudes towards the Lisbon derby, it turned it into even more of a must win affair for both sides. If Sporting lost they would be seven points off the pace with 11 games to go. If Benfica lost they’d find four points worth of daylight between themselves and Porto.


The game


Paulo Bento went a bit overboard and returned Postiga to the starting line up after his goal and assist against Belenenses last week. However his midfield looked pretty solid, with Moutinho spearheading a diamond that had Izmailov on its right, Vukčević on its left and Rochemback at its rear.


Quique Flores was asking for trouble by starting Suazo up front on his own and dropping Aimar into the playmaker role in front of the midfield. Yebda and Katsouranis made their regular appearances in the middle of the park, while Reyes found a home on the left and Ruben Amorim on the right.


Moreira’s donning of the Benfica keeper’s jersey looked like a good sign for those of us who enjoy goals, and we were not to be disappointed.


The game began a bit scrappily, emotions taking precedence over cool-headed incisive football, and Yebda was quickly shown a card the same colour as his hair for a slightly too enthusiastic lunge on Moutinho.


But it took only 11 minutes for the game to spark into real life as Liedson bent in a half volley from the right hand corner of the box.


The goal came after Benfica had failed to clear a Vukčević corner. As Sporting sent in back goalwards, Liedson found the ball coming across him and struck it wonderfully with the outside of his right foot before watching it fly beyond Moreira into the top corner.


The game was quite evenly shared for the next ten minutes, although both teams failed to create any real opportunities. That was until yellow-hair leapt to meet a Reyes free kick with a glancing header, only to see it dink the post and go out for a goal kick.


As if the Sporting manager Paulo Bento’s occasional glances in the mirror weren’t evidence enough to support Darwin’s theory that man is descended from apes, he learnt on 27 minutes that survival of the fittest was not just the name of that film he watched on Hollywood Hustler the other night.


Postiga was forced to withdraw with a knee injury after having been clobbered on two or three occasions in what one can only hope were a series of coordinated attacks. His departure saw not only the arrival of zimmer-frame advert Derlei but a 300% increase in the chances of Bento picking up his 101st win as Sporting manager.


However, Benfica suddenly began to take control of the match, with yellow-hair and Reyes pulling the strings.


Yellow-hair shot inches wide after being teed up by a cross from the right by Reyes, but Reyes was shortly after allowed a chance of his own after Suazo failed to do anything with the ball but did manage to get himself upended in the box.


Reyes stood up for the penalty and slapped it down the middle, reeling away with delight as he and his team got a much-deserved equaliser.


Just before half time Izmailov finally got involved for Sporting as the Lions had a penalty claim of their own. The Russian’s shot hit Maxi Pereira’s arm in what looked a deliberate block, but the ref chose to stick to established Liga Sagres standards of arbitration by ignoring the incident.


Half time saw me harangued by a rogue nurse who clearly hadn’t been informed about my condition.


“It wasn’t a penalty against Porto,” she said, dragging up two week old news. “Benfica should be two points clear of Porto.”


“Shit happens,” I replied, and demanded a bed bath immediately.


The second half got underway in rip roaring fashion as Derlei used his zimmer to bring down a long ball from Grimi before driving the ball into the left-hand corner. His choice of where to hit the ball was made easier by the fact that Moreira had dived to the right about two minutes earlier.


But seriously, this was actually quite a nice goal and it set up a barnstorming second half packed with chances.


The game started to show that when two good teams come head to head in the Liga Sagres an entertaining game can be played. However, the fact that only a third of the teams in the league really qualify as being good teams, by which I suppose I mean “of Premiership standard”, results in 90% of games being about as entertaining as a night in with Jim Davidson.


As Sporting began to take, as was appropriate considering their nickname, the Lion’s share of the game, Liedson came close to his second but saw his shot cleared off the line by Sidnei.


Flores then decided to throw on Di Maria for Yebda in an attempt to give his side more of an attacking edge, but it wasn’t to be as Sporting went on to create a raft of chances.


Vukčević suddenly turned on the style, flying past men on the right and sending in crosses before seeing a shot of his own fly inches wide.  The Montengran then created a chance for Derlei who turned adeptly to reach a ball that he was unlucky to see float wide.


Moutinho kept up the pressure as his shot from outside the box was deflected out for a corner and Rochemback, sporting a plaster on his head after the elbow he received in last week’s game, continued to boss the midfield.


Flores finally replaced the inept Suazo with Cardozo just before 70 minutes, a move which Bento countered by tossing in the young but thus-far impressive Bruno Pereirinha for a tiring Vukčević.


And it took Pereirinha just two minutes to hit the bar in the aftermath of a goalmouth scramble. His arrival saw Sporting pressing home their dominance and on 82 minutes he sprinted down the right and dummied Sidnei on the touchline before crossing for Liedson, who duly leapt to head into the far post.


Sporting looked to have it sewn up having put on a performance that makes you think you should reassess their chances against Bayern Munich on Wednesday. However, two seconds of reasoned thinking tells you that they’re going to get panned.


FOR: They’ve been persistently strong in defence in Europe, keeping four clean sheets in the group stages.


AGAINST: In their two games against Barcelona they managed to concede eight, which suggests they crumble against opposition of true quality. Furthermore, they only managed to score eight in six group games, a fact which combined with Bayern’s goals against tally of just four means they’ve basically got a cat in hell’s chance of scoring, let alone winning.


Benfica did get another, a Cardozo header on 90 minutes, but it was too little too late for the Eagles.


Next week Sporting will be given a great chance to close in on top spot as they face Porto away from home.


However, if Porto play anything like they did against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night, the Lions will more likely find themselves seven points adrift.


Other results


Rio Ave 1 – 0 Setúbal; Académica 3 -1 Marítimo; Estrela Amadora 1 – 0 Nacional; Naval 1 – 2 Braga; Guimarães 0 – 1 Trofense; Leixões 2 – 2 Belenenses


The top


Porto – 41

Benfica – 37

Sporting – 37

Leixões – 35

Braga - 32

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