Posts Tagged ‘Europa League’

Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

The new Primeira Liga season will commence on August 15th. And like always, there is no shortage of intriguing storylines to follow.

The Portuguese top flight has been expanded to 18 clubs from 16. Boavista has been allowed to return to the top division after a court decision deemed a previous relegation to be illegal.

And despite the modest resources of Portuguese clubs, the Primeira Liga always seems to produce excellent players every season. The ‘Big Three’ of Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and FC Porto, appear evenly matched, making the title race too close to call.

Here is a list of the top storylines to watch this season in Portugal.

Julen Lopetegui At FC Porto

Julen Lopetegui is best known for his success with Spain’s youth squads, and for a period managing Real Madrid’s reserve squad. Except for a short tenure in charge of Rayo Vallecano in 2003, the Spaniard has no prior coaching experience at senior level. But club president Pinto da Costa has had a long history of putting his trust in young, promising managers and has seen it pay off. Paulo Fonseca being the obvious exception last season.

Lopetegui has wasted no time building a squad in his own image. He has brought in Cristian Tello, Adrián López, Óliver Torres, and Casemiro. Porto has not gone more than one season without winning a league title since 2001-02. And with Benfica winning last season, and Sporting Lisbon getting stronger, FC Porto’s place as Portugal’s dominant force is being brought into question. The pressure is on.

Big Changes At Benfica

Portuguese clubs are used to losing their best players the summer after they win the league title. Success tends to elevate the value of players. And Portuguese clubs need to consistently sell players in order to be able to sign new players and stay competitive. But this played out to the extreme this summer, when defending champions Benfica sold an unusual amount of key players, including Ezequiel Garay, Jan Oblak and long-time target-man Oscar Cardozo.

The important question that many people are asking about Benfica going into the new season, is whether they could come together as a team quick enough to repeat as champions. The club’s scouting system is so strong that it always manages to find quality replacements. And for the first time in several years, Benfica have some intriguing academy graduates like João Teixeira.

Bebé At The Luz

The story of Tiago Manuel Dias Correia (known as Bebé) made headlines when he made a surprise move to Manchester United in 2010. But a lot has happened since then including growing out of favour at Old Trafford. He endured lackluster loan spells at Beşiktaş and Rio Ave as well, before enjoying a terrific second-half with Paços de Ferreira last season. Bebé demonstrated that he has the potential to be a quality centre-forward.

And it appears like he will get every opportunity to succeed at Benfica. The club lost two of their top three strikers from last season. Last year’s leading goalscorer Lima remains, but at age 30 it is unlikely that he will play at a high level that much longer. Plus, Jorge Jesus is said to have personally pushed for the club to sign the youngster. If Bebé does well, it would also be a major boost to the Seleção who are in desperate need of a striker.

Sporting Lisbon In Europe

After several tumultuous years, Sporting Lisbon appears to have stepped back from the brink of financial ruin. The club qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09 with a second-place finish last season. But what remains to be seen is whether this Sporting side is more ambitious than those of the past. The club has only advanced passed the group stage of the Champions League once in their history.

Sporting made some good signings this summer in an effort to add depth. However, the club was forced to sell Eric Dier to Tottenham. And the rumours of William Carvalho moving to a bigger club are expected to continue. Regardless, Sporting are not expected to lose many key players before the end of the transfer window on August 31st. The club looks to be in a good position to compete in Europe this season.

Boavista Returns

The Porto-based club was allowed to return to the Primeira Liga after a court decision overturned a previous sanction that forced the team into relegation in 2008, as a result of their involvement in the Apito Dourado scandal. Last season, Boavista was playing several notches below the Primeira Liga. As a result, the club was very active in the transfer window, almost completely reshaping their entire squad in the hopes of being competitive.

Former Portuguese international Petit will remain as manager. And he will have to rely on young players to perform if they are to avoid relegation. It certainly will not be easy. The club is still without a shirt sponsor. But the Boavista of the past had an excellent tradition of developing young players, many of whom would go on to play internationally for Portugal. They will have to rediscover that magic.

Revival Project At Braga

Sporting Braga is coming off a very poor season by their standards. Os Guerreiros were eliminated from the Europa League in the final qualification play-off by Romanian club Pandurii Târgu Jiu. Injuries and inconsistency would take a toll on the club. Jesualdo Ferreira was let go in February. Braga finished in ninth position and out of a Europa League position for this season.

Club president António Salvador hired former Portuguese international Sérgio Conceição as manager. Conceição has had some previous success with more modest clubs Olhanense and Académica. Braga also made some intriguing signings in Pedro Tiba, Marcelo Goiano and Tiago Gomes. Plus, with a healthy Éder and Rafa Silva, Braga should be a good club once again. And, it will be interesting to see how the notoriously hot-tempered Conceição will deal with higher expectations.

Young Talent On The Horizon

The great strength of the Portuguese League is its ability to discover the stars of tomorrow. Every summer, Portuguese clubs are forced to sell several players in order to stay financially secure. But every year, other quality players take their place. FC Porto have signed World Cup stars Yacine Brahimi and Bruno Martins Indi. Brazilians Talisca and Victor Andrade look like they could be quality players for Benfica as well.

And there is no shortage of promising home-grown talent. The Portuguese youth system is as strong as it has been in several years. Sporting Lisbon always has an abundance of promising players in its academy. Carlos Mané, Tobias Figueiredo and João Mário could be break out players this season. Benfica midfielder João Teixeira has looked good in the pre-season and could get some playing time with the senior squad. So has FC Porto defensive midfielder Rubén Neves.

Champions League Redemption

An emphasis on young talent, combined with strong management has prevented Portuguese clubs from falling behind Europe’s super-rich in the Champions League. Impressive, especially when you consider that other historically great clubs like Ajax and Celtic have been unable to do so. However, last season both FC Porto and Benfica were eliminated in the group stage. Although, Benfica’s run to the Europa League final allowed Portugal to surpass Italy for fourth in the UEFA coefficient rankings.

But the pressure is on for these clubs to do better this season. Benfica and Sporting Lisbon have already confirmed their place in the competition. While, FC Porto will have to qualify through a play-off against Ligue 1 club Lille. Success in club football’s most lucrative tournament is essential for the health of Portuguese clubs. Aside from the obvious financial gains, it also helps these clubs entice promising young footballers to play for them.

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Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

There was once again no shortage of intriguing headlines in Portugal this season. For the first time in several years, the League title was a three-horse race for most of the season producing plenty of drama along the way.

Benfica came out on top in the end, winning their 33th Portuguese title. While city rivals Sporting Lisbon firmly re-established themselves as serious contenders after years of financial mismanagement and poor performances.

However, this season was not without its disappointments. FC Porto and Benfica both failed to emerge from the group stage of the Champions League. And Benfica’s inability to win a European competition continued when they lost to Sevilla in the Europa League final.

But despite their modest resources, Portuguese clubs continue to produce elite talent at a level not seen in any other European League of its size. The emergence of William Carvalho, and other young players further added to the perception that Portuguese football is as healthy as ever.

Here now are the top eight storylines from Portugal this season.

Benfica Overcome The Memory Of Last Season’s Collapse

The memory of Benfica’s 2012-13 season is one that Benfica supporters will work hard to forget. The club rebounded in the best possible way by having one of their best seasons in recent memory. Although the loss to Sevilla in the Europa League final was difficult to accept for some fans.

After a relatively poor start to the season, Jorge Jesus’ club were almost perfect from November onwards. The club also appears to have some excellent young players in Lazar Marković, Ivan Cavaleiro and Jan Oblak that could keep the team competitive for years to come.

Revival At Sporting Lisbon

Despite once again falling short of the League title, Sporting Lisbon appears to have put financial ruin and poor performances behind them for good. Os Leões have regained the respect of their fans after some tumultuous years and optimism is high.

How did they do it? By going back to what made the club great in the first place. Not able to spend big like Benfica and FC Porto, manager Leonardo Jardim embraced the club’s famous academy and the results improved. The club went from having three managers last season, to a runner-up position this season. And they are looking forward to Champions League football in 2014-15.

FC Porto Struggles

On a negative note, FC Porto had one of their worst seasons in the Pinto da Costa era. A new manager, too many new players, dysfunction and a lack of squad depth all played a part in a third place finish for the Dragões.

It was unfamiliar territory for the club. Consistency and success is what we have come to expect from Porto over the last two decades. But it would be foolish to assume that Porto’s position as Portugal’s dominate club is coming to an end. The last time they failed to win the Portuguese League in 2009-10, Porto bounced back with a treble winning season.

Marco Silva’s Estoril

The most pleasant surprise this season was Estoril Praia who finished in fourth position. The suburban Lisbon club returned to top flight only two years ago. They managed to match the best finish in their history this season.

Much of the praise must go to their young manager Marco Silva who clearly has a good eye for talent. The club lost several good players last season after finishing a better than expected fifth. This season Gonçalo Santos, Sebá, Evandro and others established themselves as quality players.

Champions League Failures

In fairness, both Benfica and Porto were drawn in to two very difficult groups for this season’s Champions League. However, in past seasons both clubs would find a way to advance to the round of 16. This year, they started poorly and were unable to recover.

Benfica finished tied with Greek club Olympiacos in points with 10, a total that would get most clubs into the round of 16. However, Benfica was unable to beat Olympiacos over two encounters. Porto managed only one win and four goals in six matches.

The Curse of Béla Guttmann Continues

After leading Benfica to their second European Cup victory in 1962, Hungarian manager Béla Guttmann asked for a pay raise and was denied. After resigning, he famously declared ‘Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.’ The club has lost eight consecutive European finals since.

The latest came in the final of the Europa League against La Liga club Sevilla. Benfica came into the match as slight favourites but were missing a few key players due to suspensions. Despite getting the majority of chances, Benfica were unable to score and eventually lost to Sevilla on penalties.

Portugal’s Emerging Generation

It is no secret that the Primeira Liga is a breeding ground for many promising youngsters looking to develop their talent. But it was an exceptionally good year for emerging home grown talent. The accolades and praise for Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho are too numerous to name here.

However, Vitória Setúbal winger Ricardo Horta, Vitória Guimarães defender Paulo Oliveira, Nacional defender Miguel Rodrigues and Braga midfielder Rafa Silva are just some of the best revelations from this past season. Not to mention on-loan striker Bebé who scored an impressive 11 goals for Paços de Ferreira.

Ricardo Quaresma’s Return

Ricardo Quaresma is probably the most polarizing player Portugal has produced in a long while, if ever. He inspires delight and dislike in equal measure. But there is no doubt that his return to FC Porto in January was good for the competition.

The winger dazzled fans with his exceptional skill, once again inspiring many to wonder what could have been. Quaresma was particularly impressive in the Europa League matches against Napoli. He was unable to turn the tide for FC Porto as the Dragões finished a disappointing third. However, he did provide spectacle and thrills along the way.

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Sport Lisboa e Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Sport Lisboa e Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Benfica’s 2-0 defeat of Olhanense at the Estádio da Luz allowed the Lisbon club to clinch the Primeira Liga title with two matches to spare. They overcame the memory of last season’s epic collapse to win their first League title in four seasons and the 33rd in their long history.

It could end of being a historic year for the Portuguese club. The Eagles are still active in the Portuguese Cup, League Cup and the Europa League. Although, Juventus will be a major challenge in the semi-finals of the Europa League.

After a difficult start to the season which saw them drop points in three of their first six matches, Benfica dominated their opponents the rest of the way and were fully deserving of their title.

Here now are the 5 reasons Benfica won the Portuguese title this season.

Jan Oblak

The goalkeeper is usually the most unheralded member of any championship squad. But in this case, many Benfiquistas will look back at the moment Jan Oblak replaced an injured Artur in a December League match against Olhanense as the turning point of the season. The Slovenian has been solid ever since. And so have Benfica.

Benfica would win 15 out of the next 16 League matches with Oblak as the regular starter. The Slovenian goalkeeper conceded only three goals along the way. Artur was not necessarily at fault for the club’s early season struggles. However, the squad did play much better in front of Oblak.

Squad Adjustments

Jorge Jesus has demonstrated an ability to alter his squad when needed this season. Guilherme Siqueira, Silvio, Ljubomir Fejsa, Lazar Marković and Miralem Sulejmani gave Jesus more options in key positions. In the event of injury or poor form, Jesus was always able to find a more than reliable replacement.

For example, Bruno Cortez proved unconvincing at left-back early in the season. With Silvio unavailable due to injury, Jesus had an excellent option in Guilherme Siqueira. Also, when last season’s Player of the Year Nemanja Matić moved on to the Premier League, his countryman Fejsa was more than able to fill the void.

Ezequiel Garay/Luisão

Benfica’s centre-back pairing was the spine that kept the club together this season. At 33-years-old, Luisão is probably having the best season he has ever had in Portugal. The Brazilian looked determined at the start of the season. He has scored some key goals in Europe as well.

Ezequiel Garay is also having an excellent season. The Argentine has scored six goals in the Portuguese League, a very impressive total for a centre-back. He is widely expected to move on to a bigger club this summer. Garay and Luisão have helped Benfica to the best defensive record in the league.

Squad Depth

As mentioned, Benfica’s summer signings gave manager Jorge Jesus better options. With the exception of Matić, the club did not lose any key players this season. Perhaps motivated by a three-year drought and the memory of last season’s collapse, the club spent heavily in the summer to boost their chances of winning the League.

Their great rivals, FC Porto lost several good players last summer. While, Sporting Lisbon has revived themselves through their famous academy. However, the long-awaited League title will have to wait another year. Benfica’s squad was so deep that Jorge Jesus could afford to rest many of his key players in the Europa League and Cup matches, and often still managed to get a good result.

Maturity and Experience

This year’s Benfica squad was not only deep but also determined and mature. Several players like Oscar Cardozo, Luisão, and Maxi Pereira were on the 2009-10 squad which was the last to win the title. Their maturity and expertise proved valuable this season. Perhaps the memory of last season’s collapse also served as extra motivation.

And with players like Ezequiel Garay, Nicolás Gaitán, and Rodrigo expected to move on this summer, finally winning a League title with the club is no doubt a relief. In the end, Benfica had the right combination of youth, talent and experience to come out on top. Manager Jorge Jesus may have silenced some doubters as well, at least until next season.

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Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor could not have imagined a better start to life in Greece. Unceremoniously released by Benfica in the summer, the 24-year old signed with Greek club PAOK and has quickly won over fans.

Vitor has scored four goals in his first eight matches in the Greek Super League, while PAOK currently sit comfortably in second position behind Olympiakos.

Vitor followed up a two goal performance last weekend in a league game against Asteras Tripolis with another goal in the Europa League against Maccabi Haifa midweek. The goal came in the 35th minute when the Greek club was already down 2-0. Vitor headed in a long free-kick to cut the lead in half.

The goal helped PAOK come back and win the match 3-2. The win means they are currently in first place in group L, with seven points in three matches.

Vitor has scored five goals in all competitions already this season. In an interview with Portuguese football website Maisfutebol this week, the central defender reflected on his immediate success in Greece.

“Both collectively and individually, everything is going perfectly,” he told Maisfutebol.

Vitor has won great admiration from the PAOK faithful for his early season heroics.

“The Greek fans are very passionate. Things have turned out well for the club and myself so far. They have given us a lot of affection. It is a good feeling.”

A Benfica youth player, Miguel Vitor graduated to the senior club in 2008-09. He made 16 league appearances under former manager Quique Sánchez Flores in his first season.

But Jorge Jesus took over at the Estádio da Luz the following season. He favoured Luisão and David Luiz in the centre of defence. Vitor made only two appearances in 2009-10 as Benfica would go on to win the league and the Portuguese Cup.

In 2010-11, Vitor was loaned to Leicester City in the English Championship. Former Portugal international and Benfica player Paulo Sousa was the manager of the club at the time. Vitor would impress, recovering from an early season injury to play in 15 league matches, scoring three goals.

Upon returning to Benfica, Vitor was relegated to a bench role in the next two seasons. Last year, he divided time between the senior club and Benfica B in the second division. Vitor’s summer departure came as no surprise to anyone.

In the interview with Maisfutebol, Vitor said that he left Benfica with regret but is now firmly focussed on rebuilding his career in a new country.

“Of course I wish things could have worked out better but I wouldn’t say I was hurt by it. I don’t really think about it anymore,” he said.

“Over several years it became obvious that there wasn’t any room for me. With the current manager, I understood that it would be very difficult to get an opportunity,” he added.

Vitor is the latest Portuguese national to make a big name for himself at PAOK. Fernando Santos managed the club for three seasons before leaving to coach the Greek national team in 2010. Former Portugal winger and current manager of Académica Sérgio Conceição also played for PAOK for two seasons.

But most notably, Vieirinha played for PAOK for three seasons, being named the team’s player of the year twice. His impressive performances earned him a transfer to Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg and eventually a call-up to the Portuguese national team.

The comparisons between Vieirinha and Miguel Vitor are almost unavoidable. Both were highly touted youth players. Vieirinha never really got a chance with FC Porto, while Vitor was never really given an opportunity at Benfica. Both headed off to Greece. Could Miguel Vitor’s career take a similar path?

A regular on Portugal’s U19 and U21 squads, Vitor said that a call-up to the senior squad would be a dream come true.

“It is a dream that I have, but I know that I have not played much in the last three seasons. To get there, I have to play one or two seasons at a high level before I could expect to be selected,” he said.

“I hope Portugal qualify for the World Cup but I think it will be difficult for me to get there. The squad is well established. But it is a possibility, I have to continue to work hard in order to get there.”

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Anthony Lopes Has Shown Some Great Promise With Lyon This Pre-Season

Anthony Lopes Has Shown Some Great Promise With Lyon This Pre-Season

Futebol Factory is profiling some of Portugal’s most promising young talent in three feature articles ahead of the new football season.

Anthony Lopes, Olympique Lyonnais, Goalkeeper

A quality goalkeeper that has played for Portugal at the U21 level. French-born Lopes played the last 5 Ligue 1 matches last season for the French club and has already figured prominently in Europa League qualifying matches so far this month. He also impressed in Lyon’s 4-0 defeat of Nice in the first match of the Ligue 1 season.

The French-club is currently without a proven stopper and could be tempted to go with Lopes. They have also shown some great faith in him by signing Lopes to a contract extension that will see him stay with the club until 2016. Rui Patrício is the uncontested Portuguese number one but it never hurts to have a quality alternative.

Miguel Vitor, PAOK, Centre Back

Unceremoniously released by Benfica this off season, the central defender was quickly signed by Greek giants PAOK. Vitor has played alongside former Benfica player Kostas Katsouranis in PAOK’s Europa League qualifying matches against Metalist Kharkiv.

A very prominant figure with Portugal’s U21 squads, the 24-year old is expected to finally get his chance to play everyday in Greece. A chance he was never really given in Portugal. He joins a club that has been good to Portuguese talent in the past, including Sérgio Conceição and Vieirinha.

Ricardo Esgaio, Sporting Lisbon, Winger/Right-Back

An exciting player who is a big part of Sporting’s amazing pool of young talent. The 20-year old recently signed a long-term extension with the club that will see him under contract until 2018. He also played in the U20 World Cup.

Supremely talented and versatile, Esgaio scored 17 goals in 27 matches for Sporting B squad in the second division last year. However, this might not yet be the year that Esgaio makes the big leap to the senior side. Sporting has depth on the wings, and Leonardo Jardim might decide that it is better for him to continue to develop in the second division or possibly on loan.

Sérgio Oliveira, FC Porto (On Loan at Paços de Ferreira), Midfielder

Sérgio Oliveira has been in the spotlight since he was the youngest player ever to play for FC Porto’s senior side at the age of 17. He has found opportunities at the Cidade Invicta very limited since then, being loaned out to several clubs in recent years.

He played last season with Porto’s B squad in the second division, scoring 5 goals in 29 matches. Still only 21 years of age, Oliveira should receive playing time at Paços de Ferreira. A natural central midfielder, Oliveira is a free-kick specialist.

João Mário, Sporting Lisbon, Midfielder

Recently signed to a long-term extension, João Mário is one of the most talked about young players in Portugal today. The central midfielder captained Portugal’s U20 squad at this summer’s World Cup. For many it has always been a matter of when, not if.

Sporting’s new manager Leonardo Jardim has shown a willingness to ‘test’ young players in the past with Braga. However, João Mário might find it hard to play regularly this season because of the club’s investments in Adrien Silva, Andre Martins, Andre Santos and Zakaria Labyad.

Filipe Chaby, Sporting Lisbon, Attacking Midfielder

Another supremely promising midfielder from Sporting’s famed academy. The 19-year old missed most of last season with a serious knee injury however, he has played very well this summer in exhibition matches for the senior squad.

Recently signed to a long-term extension, Chaby will be hard-pressed to earn a position on Leonardo Jardim’s starting XI given the club’s depth in young midfielders. However, Chaby is certainly a player to watch going forward.

Aladje, Sassuolo, Striker

Born in Guinea-Bissau and currently playing in Italy, Aladje has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last two months. A surprise addition to Portugal’s squad for the U20 Toulon Tournament, Aladje wrestled the starting striker position away from Betinho. He would score 3 goals in 4 matches at the U20 World Cup and was even profiled in an article on the FIFA website.

Until now he has only played football in Italy’s lower division but this appears likely to change after he moved to Serie B graduates Sassuolo this summer. Aladje is part of a promising generation of young Portuguese strikers that could finally deliver the country a major trophy.

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Just days after conceding the Portuguese League to rivals Porto, Jorge Jesus’ club completed a collapse of epic proportions not seen since Sporting Lisbon’s 2005 campaign. A late goal by Chelsea’s central defender Branislav Ivanović was the difference as the London-club defeated Benfica 2-1 in the Europa League final in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.

Jorge Jesus fielded a familiar 4-3-3 formation, with Oscar Cardozo leading the attack. Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Gaitan started on the wings. Chelsea were without the injured John Terry and Eden Hazard, but fielded a strong squad with former Benfica players David Luiz and Ramires.

The two clubs played to a scoreless first half, with Benfica controlling most of the possession and managing the most scoring chances. In the second half, Os Encarnados started brightly against the Blues. Benfica thought they scored after Oscar Cardozo capitalized off a brilliant cross by Nicolas Gaitán, but it was called offside. The replay shows that the call was very close, but it was probably the right decision.

Soon after the disallowed goal Chelsea’s Fernando Torres was put in alone by Juan Mata. Torres dribbled past Benfica Goalkeeper Artur and scored. Despite being the better team, Benfica were a goal down at the hour mark of the match.

But the Portuguese club did not quit and they were given life when Chelsea defender César Azpilicueta handled the ball in the box, giving Benfica a good chance to tie the match. Oscar Cardozo stepped up and scored on the ensuing penalty.

Chelsea quickly responded with a few good chances and seemed to come into the game more as the second half unfolded. Oscar Cardozo had the best chance for Benfica when he let go a good shot just outside the box which Petr Cech tipped over the bar.

Now into injury time, disaster struck for Benfica. Chelsea’s defender Branislav Ivanović scored off a corner by Juan Mata. Jardel and Andre Almeida could do nothing but watch as Ivanovic brilliantly executed a header to put Chelsea ahead for good.

Manager Jorge Jesus told SIC television that he was proud of his club’s performance. “We conceded another goal in the 92nd minute. But it was a final between two good clubs, Benfica were better for most of the match. We were missing that lucky break which would have put us ahead, which we would have deserved.”

Jesus is likely to receive most of the criticism for the last two defeats but club president Luís Filipe Vieira told media after the match that he will remain with the club.

“I have already said that Jorge Jesus is my manager and he will continue to be for many years. He is part of our plans and I am very satisfied with what he has been able to accomplish.”

Second half substitute Lima told media that Benfica deserved to win based on its overall performance. “We were the better club on the field. It is difficult to explain. We want to thank our supporters who came to support us by the masses. We wanted to win for them, for us and for our families. Unfortunately, we were not able to do so. Now we have to hold our heads high.”

Jorge Jesus’ club entered Saturday’s match against Porto with a one point lead over their archrivals, only to lose on a late goal by Kelvin. The loss means that Porto could clinch a third straight domestic league title with a win on the weekend against Paços de Ferreira.

On Wednesday night in Amsterdam, Jorge Jesus’ club was hoping to erase the memory of the devastating loss on Saturday by winning their first major international trophy since their second European Cup trophy win in 1962. But it was not to be.

In the span of less than a week, Benfica have lost their slim lead in the Portuguese League, as well as the Europa League final. To make matters worse, both matches were lost on goals in injury time in the second half.

José Peseiro’s Sporting Lisbon side had a similar thing happen to them in the 2004-05 season when they gave up the lead in the Portuguese League and lost the UEFA Cup final to CSKA Moscow within a week. The UEFA Cup final was held at their home ground, the Estádio José Alvalade that year.

The loss to Chelsea means the most successful and popular club in Portuguese football have lost a total of seven consecutive finals in major European competitions. The two-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League have lost in the finals of that competition a total of five consecutive times (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990).

Wednesday’s loss in Amsterdam to Chelsea was their second loss in the UEFA Cup/Europa League tournament. They also lost to Anderlecht in 1983. They have never won the tournament.

Benfica entered Saturday’s match against FC Porto with the possibility of winning three trophies this season. A win against Vitória Guimarães in the Portuguese Cup final on May 26th would now be little consolation for Benfiquistas who within several days have seen their club’s promising season come to a disappointing end.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Edgar Jiménez

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Edgar Jiménez

A late second-half goal in injury time by Porto’s Kelvin was the difference as the Dragões earned a 2-1 victory to overtake Benfica at the top of the Portuguese League. Vitor Pereira’s club will go into its final league match against Paços de Ferreira with a one point lead over their great rival.

Benfica’s Lima drew first blood in the 19th minute but the visitor’s lead was cancelled out by a Maxi Pereira own goal only minutes later. In the second half, Porto continued to press with Benfica assuming a more defensive strategy as the match reached its final stages. Just a minute into injury time, second half substitute Kelvin struck a brilliant shot from the left side that alluded Artur.

It was another dramatic development in what has been one of the most exciting campeonato in recent years. After the goal was scored Benfica manager sunk to his knees as if to emulate the anguish of Benfiquistas around the world. Jesus talked about the moment after the match to journalists.

“I did not think the championship was lost, but I knew it was going to be more difficult. Before the match I understood that only one of the clubs could have finished this match as champions, that was Benfica. FC Porto won and are obviously in a better position.”

The defeat was Benfica’s first of the campaign in the Portuguese League after 29 matches. They will face Premier League giants Chelsea in the final of the Europa League on Wednesday in Amsterdam.

VIDEO: Highlights Porto 2 – Benfica 1

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Heerenveen’s Technical Director Johan Hansma confirmed last week that Benfica have officially acquired Serbian playmaker Filip Djuricic from the Eredivisie side. The deal has been speculated for months, but Hansma’s comments marked the first time anyone from the Dutch club had confirmed a ‘done deal.’

The 21-year-old Serbian international will join the Águias at the beginning of next season. O Jogo reported in February that Djuricic signed a five-year deal with the club, which would expire in 2018. The transfer fee is expected to be around 6 million Euros.

Djuricic is a natural attacking midfielder with club and country. He began playing football in his native Serbia with hometown club FK Radnički Obrenovac before spending some time in the youth ranks of Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade and Greek side Olympiacos.

In 2008, he returned to Obrenovac where he played his first matches at the senior level. In 2010, he was signed by Dutch club SC Heerenveen where he has developed into a very promising young player.

Djuricic impressed with Serbia’s junior squads before he received his first international call-up with the senior national team in 2012. He has played in 11 matches with Serbia, scoring 4 goals. He has 7 goals and 7 assists in 32 matches in the Dutch League so far this campaign.

Djuricic’s former manager with the Serbian U-21 squad Aleksandar Janković told Serbian newspaper Blic that the 21-year-old is “The future of Serbian football.” And like Holland’s greatest player Johan Cruyff, Djuricic is a “fighter who is always ready to assume that responsibility.” Janković added that Djuricic has demonstrated a maturity level beyond his years.

Djuricic was named by Heerenveen fans as the player of the year, receiving 42 percent of votes. He accepted the award on Sunday where he spoke about his impending move to Portugal with great excitement.

“Benfica is a fantastic club. They are in the final of the Europa League and they play a form of attacking football that really suits me. It is a big step forward in my career,” he told fans and media.

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Benfica will go into the second-leg of their Europa League match-up against Newcastle United with a two-goal lead on aggregate. Jorge’s Jesus’ club managed a 3-1 victory over Newcastle on Thursday night in Lisbon, which means they will go into next Thursday’s match at St. James’ Park with a comfortable lead.

Benfica were without winger Eduardo Salvio who missed the match with a knee injury. Promising midfielder André Gomes made a surprise start in the left side of midfield for the Águias. Oscar Cardozo played upfront, with Rodrigo and Nicolas Gaitan on the wings.

Despite the final score line, it was Newcastle that started the match with greater energy. They were rewarded when Moussa Sissoko crossed the ball into the box to Papiss Cissé who struck it into the wide-open goal. The English side continued to press after going one up.

But in the 25th minute, Oscar Cardozo struck a hard shot from distance which Newcastle Tim Krul stopped but was unable to hold on to. Rodrigo quickly grabbed the rebound and scored. This was the break that Benfica needed.

In the second half, Lima took advantage of a defensive mistake by Newcastle Davide Santon to put Benfica ahead. Soon after, Newcastle’s Steven Taylor handled the ball in the box and Benfica were given a penalty.

Oscar Cardozo scored on the initial attempt but it was waved off due to obstruction in the box. His second attempt was successful and Benfica had a comfortable lead with just under 20 minutes to play in normal time. Benfica held on to a deserving win.

“We are in the quarter finals and every club here is playing at a high level. Newcastle started well and they took advantage of a mistake by us, but we responded well and we deserved the win,” Rodrigo told Sic television.

“Nothing is decided. We still have to play one more match that will decide everything. We have a good advantage but we need to play like its 0-0 and win again. We will maintain a winning spirit, regardless of the result of the game.”

Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side earned a well-deserved 3-2 victory over Ligue 1 side Bordeaux on Thursday to earn a place in the quarterfinals of the Europa League where they will face Newcastle United.

With injuries to Luisão and Ezequiel Garay, Jesus was forced to use Jardel and Roderick Miranda as Benfica’s central defence pairing. Strikers Lima and Oscar Cardozo began the match on the bench, with Rodrigo playing upfront.

Jardel justified Jorge Jesus’ confidence in him by scoring the opening goal of the match in the 30th minute. Benfica went into half-time with a comfortable 2-0 lead on aggregate.

In the second half, Jardel misplayed a long ball which Bordeaux’s Malian striker Cheick Diabaté was able to capitalize on, giving the French side a glimmer of hope. But it was short lived.

Just a minute later, Nicolas Gaitán found Oscar Cardozo in the box. After getting past a defender, the Paraguayan slid it past Bordeaux goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso.

After an own goal by Jardel, Cardozo scored his second of the match two minutes into extra time, sealing the victory for the Portuguese side.

After the match, Jorge Jesus said that Oscar Cardozo’s introduction into the match in the 66th minute for Rodrigo was the decisive moment. Jesus also spoke about his decision to rotate his squad this season.

“It has been the Europa League where we have used the most regular starters. The response from the players who have not played regularly has helped alot. It is not me, I believe in the players who play for me and especially what they are capable of,” Jesus said.