Posts Tagged ‘The Columnist’

Sporting-Benfica

Lisbon derbys always draw up a lot of excitement in the Portuguese capital. Jorge Jesus’ sensational move from Benfica to Sporting in the summer just added fuel to the already tense rivalry between the two sides. When the final whistle was heard at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday, Jesus had earned the last laugh with a 3-0 victory against his former club.

Despite a positive start for the home side, Sporting managed to grab an early lead when Colombian striker Teo Gutiérrez was able to get on the end of a long pass by Adrien. In the 21st minute, Islam Slimani scored with a thunderous header from a Jefferson cross. And later in the 1st half, Bryan Ruiz pounced on a rebound to put Sporting up 3-0.

Jorge Jesus’ return to the Estádio da Luz could not have gone more to plan. The loss will no doubt sting Benfiquistas supporters as much as it enthralls Sportinguistas.

It was Benfica’s first loss at home in a league match since a 3-2 defeat to FC Porto on 2 March, 2012, ending a run of 55 matches unbeaten. The result also had a far-reaching impact when it comes to the title race. Sporting now sit alone at the top of the table with 20 points after eight matchdays. Benfica remain eight points back, but have played one fewer match than their rivals.

Last year’s champions have now lost the first three matches of the season against the other two members of the ‘Big Three.’ But Benfica will get an opportunity to avenge this loss when they face Sporting again in Portuguese Cup action on 21 November.

What the managers said

Sporting manager Jorge Jesus:

“I did not expect to win 3-0. Did I believe Sporting would win. Yes. But not 3-0.”

“I am very happy to earn three points at the Estádio da Luz, especially considering the environment surrounding this match. I have a lot of respect for our opponents and Benfica. But, I want to give Sporting a lot of credit for the way they played. It is not easy to win 3-0 here.”

“There is a lot of pride in this victory. I spent six years at Benfica and played Sporting 14 times. Sporting only won once. Since I arrived here, we have played Benfica twice and won twice.”

“It was a brilliant victory at a place where I had some brilliant games and brilliant years…I am used to having great moments here [at the Luz]. Sporting played a great match.”

Benfica manager Rui Vitoria:

“It was a very unusual match. We created pressure in the Sporting zone to start, but after a fortunate bounce, they scored. That got into our player’s heads. Afterwards, we raised our game again, but Sporting scored a second and a third. It was a very unjust match because we thought that we were playing well. Sporting really took their opportunities.”

“I have gone through much worse professionally and personally. We do not want to go through moments like this but it is part of the growing process. We need to remember that we are Benfica and at this club we fight until the very end.”

“It is important to know that when we lose we need to be able to analyze. I have gone through a lot but this is one of the worst results I have been a part of.”

FC Porto held by Braga

FC Porto missed their chance to catch Sporting in the late match on Sunday. Julen Lopetegui’s side were unable to solve Braga and had to settle for a scoreless draw. They now sit in 2nd spot, two points behind Sporting. After the match, Lopetegui downplayed the significance.

“We are going into the 9th matchday. There is still a lot of time left. We are on a positive path and if we continue, we will be champions in the end.”

“We put a lot of players forward [against Braga]. We finished the match with three defenders and only one midfielder. We were in control throughout the match. But if we do not score, football will punish you.”

It was another positive result for Paulo Fonseca’s Braga club. Os Arsenalistas beat French giants Olympique Marseille in the Europa League on Thursday to bring their group stage record to three wins from three. The draw at the Estádio do Dragão means they sit in 4th position in the Primeira Liga.

In other action, Rio Ave gave up a late lead to Estoril and drew 2-2. Both clubs finished the match with ten men. Pedro Martins’ side remain in third place. Belenenses’ moved up to 10th in the table after a 1-0 victory against União da Madeira in the Monday night match. Second half substitute Tiago Caeiro scored in the 90th minute to give his team the victory.

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Dani Osvaldo FC Porto

Sporting and FC Porto received most of the headlines this weekend after resounding victories in match-day seven of the Primeira Liga season. Both clubs share top spot in the table with 17 points each.

After a famous victory against former manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea during the week, the Dragões trounced Belenenses 4-0 at home on Sunday. After a scoreless first-half, summer signing Jesús Corona put Porto ahead just after the break. Brahimi, Osvaldo and Marcano rounded out the scoring.

Manager Julen Lopetegui credited his club’s mental strength for the victory.

“We deserved to be winning at half-time, but couldn’t score, despite our superiority, as we missed too many shots. We had several situations to score, played well, facing a team with good players, and we were waiting on the perfect timing. The team had mentality, was capable of working and winning,” he said.

The win may have come at a price. Team captain and defensive-stalwart Maicon may be on the sidelines for a few weeks after leaving the match in the first-half with a thigh injury.

Sporting followed up a disappointing 1-1 draw against Beşiktaş in the Europa League, with a convincing 5-1 win against Vitória Guimarães at Alvalade. Islam Slimani scored a hat-trick, with Teo Gutiérrez and Adrien Silva scoring the other two. It may have been Sporting’s most complete performance of the season.

William Carvalho made his first appearance at Alvalade after returning from a leg injury and looked to be in top form.

“Yes, this performance was a good response. We have worked hard, despite the problems,” he said.

“The objective is to play well and win. Now we have to work hard and think about the next match.”

Last year’s champions Benfica had their match against União de Madeira postponed because of thick fog. A new date has not been announced.

Outside the ‘Big Three,’ Rio Ave is the biggest surprise so far. Pedro Martins’ club sit alone in third position. Braga could only manage a scoreless draw against Arouca but still sit comfortably in fourth position. Benfica rounds off the top five, with one game at hand.

Moreirense and Academica currently sit in the relegation zone with three points each. Academica won their first match of the season beating Marítimo 1-0. Moreirense played Tondela to a 1-1 draw and remain the only club without a league victory this season.

The Liga NOS will now go on a two-week hiatus for the international break and the Portuguese Cup. On 25 October, Benfica and Sporting will clash at the Estádio da Luz. FC Porto will also play Braga.

André Carrillo and Sporting heading for a split?

It looks like André Carrillo is on his way out of Sporting. The Peruvian had not dressed for the club for several matches because of on-going contract negotiations.

Last week, the drama turned into a full-fledged saga when the club announced that they had formally suspended the player. They also released a 32-point press release detailing alleged acts of impropriety by Carrillo and his representatives.

The club accused Carrillo and his people of deliberately sabotaging negotiations. Sporting also accused the player and his representatives of trying to force his way out of the club, among other allegations.

Carrillo was signed by the club in 2011 from Alianza Lima. He was one of the very few good signings by Luís Godinho Lopes. Current club president Bruno de Carvalho spoke about Carrillo on the TVI program Prolongamento on Monday.

“Carrillo told me that he no longer wanted to play for Sporting because he was no longer committed to us,” he said.

“We tried to re-sign Carrillo for a year and a half. In football, there are problems that just cannot be resolved.”

Carrillo’s contract expires this summer which means the club will have to sell him during the January transfer window.

Cristiano Ronaldo hits a milestone and surpasses Raul

It seems like every week Cristiano Ronaldo is breaking a new record. This past week, the Portugal captain scored his 500th career goal and also surpassed Real Madrid legend Raul to become the club’s all-time leading scorer.

Ronaldo was put in alone by Isco in the first-half of Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Malmö FF. And he made no mistake. Late in the second half, he flicked Lucas Vázquez’s pass into the goal, as Real won 2-0.

It has been a long, remarkable journey for the boy from Madeira. He scored his first senior goal for Sporting on 7 October, 2002 against Moreirense. Back then, he was just another in a line of supremely-talented wingers coming out of the club’s Alcochete academy.

So much has happened since then. His transfer to Manchester United, Euro 2004, Germany 2006, Moscow 2008, Real Madrid, Euro 2012, Lisbon 2014 and that special night in Stockholm. Not to mention the three Ballon d’Or.

It is hard to believe that he will ever slow down. Although, his game has changed since he turned 30 last year. Ronaldo seems to have lost the ability to score from free-kicks. And he no longer scores from distance as he once did.

But, his decline appears to be a long way off. Although, he appears to be evolving into a one-touch goalscorer, his production is not dropping. And given his well-known commitment to fitness and his desire, Ronaldo should be able to play at a very high level for several more seasons.

Seleção to face Denmark on Thursday in Braga

Portugal will play Denmark in Braga on Thursday. The Seleção sit first in Group I with 15 points. A draw will be enough to qualify for Euro 2016 next summer. They will travel to Serbia after the match.

“It is true that we are close to qualifying, but we still have a lot to do. It will be two difficult matches [against Denmark and Serbia],” Portugal manager Fernando Santos said.

“Denmark is a club of great quality, both collectively and individually. For Denmark, this is a final because it is their last match of the group. We need to approach this match as a final as well.”

Benfica right-back Nelson Semedo received his first senior call-up. João Moutinho, Tiago and Fábio Coentrão were selected after sitting out previous matches because of injuries. Luis Neto and Rafa Silva also return to the squad.

William Carvalho, Raphael Guerreiro, Andre Gomes, Pepe, Paulo Oliveira and Vieirinha were left out because of injuries or fitness issues. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was originally selected but was forced to withdraw after coming down with gastroenteritis. Dinamo Zagreb’s Eduardo was named in his place.

Portugal’s U21 squad will continue their Euro 2017 qualifying campaign this week against Hungary, before facing Greece on Tuesday. Rui Jorge’s squad beat Albania 6-1 in their first qualifying match last month. However, they will have to make do without André Silva who is out with an ankle injury.

Mexican Winger Jesus Corona Joins FC Porto

Mexican Winger Jesus Corona Joins FC Porto

Portuguese clubs were busy up to the final hours of this summer’s transfer window. The August 31st deadline marked the end of one of the most eventful transfer periods in recent memory.

FC Porto was the most active in the final days, signing Mexican pair Jesús Corona and Miguel Layún. The club signed Corona from Twente for €10,5 million and will possess 70% of his ownership rights. While, full-back Layún arrives on loan from Watford. He should bolster the club’s flanks after the departure of both Danilo and Alex Sandro.

Porto also loaned out Ricardo Pereira, Adrián López, Hernâni and Juan Quintero. Former Portuguese international Rolando moved to French giants Marseille on a permanent deal, finally ending a long standoff with the club.

Benfica made two low profile signings on Monday. Marvin Loría arrived on-loan from Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica. The deal includes an option to buy. They also signed defender Emir Azemovic from Partizan Belgrade. Both players are expected to remain with the B squad this season. The club also loaned Daniel Candeias to Ligue 2 club Metz.

But it was the deals they made on Tuesday that drew much attention. The transfer deadline was one day later in England than most of Europe and Benfica took advantage, sending two underachieving players on-loan to the Championship. Dutch Winger Ola John joined Reading FC and Nelson Oliveira moved to Nottingham Forest. For Oliveira, it is his sixth loan since 2009.

Sporting sold Chilean striker Diego Rubio to Spanish second division club Real Valladolid. Defender Ramy Rabia was also sold to Egyptian club Al-Ahly for €750,000. Wilson Eduardo, who has spent the last few seasons on loan, was allowed to join Braga. No terms have been released.

Braga and Belenenses bolster their line-ups

Outside of the ‘Big Three’, Braga made several good signings. Os Guerreiros do Minho signed highly rated Brazilian midfielder Filipe Augusto on-loan from Rio Ave. They also signed Spanish midfielder Aarón Ñíguez on a free transfer after he opted out of his contract with Elche.

And they made possibly the most surprising move of any Portuguese club in the final week, sending Pedro Tiba on loan to Real Valladolid. Tiba blamed Braga manager Paulo Fonseca for his loss of playing time.

“Why did I stop being a starter? Ask the manager! I came here [Valladolid] because I knew that I would not be as happy as I was last season. I was called up to three league matches and did not leave the bench. Am I ready to play? Of course I am,” he said.

The club also loaned Colombian forward Erik Moreno to Real Valladolid, along with Tiba. Tiago Gomes moved to Metz on a season-long loan as well. Brazilian defender Aderlan Santos was sold to Valencia. Braga announced that they made a handsome profit of €16,3 million from the transfer window, proving once again that the club is a model of fiscal management.

Lisbon-area club Belenenses qualified for the group stages of the Europa League last week. They significantly boosted their chances of advancing into the knockout stages by making two very cost-effective deals. They signed Cape-Verdan winger Kuca on loan from Karabükspor. He was excellent last season for Estoril. They also signed Luís Leal on a season-long loan from APOEL.

AS Monaco add Marcos Lopes and Fábio Coentrão

Leonardo Jardim continues to put his stamp on AS Monaco, signing Marcos Lopes and Fábio Coentrão. Coentrão arrives on loan from Real Madrid. The Portuguese international will be looking to revive his career after two injury-plagued seasons at the Bernabeu.

Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes signed a five-year deal with Monaco. His departure from Manchester City caught many by surprise, even his own manager it seems. Just hours before the deal was announced Manuel Pellegrini told media that the 19-year-old would be loaned out this season.

Lopes famously scored just minutes after coming on in his senior debut with the club in a January 2013 League Cup match against Watford. It seemed that he was destined to be the first academy graduate to establish himself in the senior squad since the club was bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008. But it was not meant to be.

The deal seems to reflect a new reality in football. Rich clubs like Manchester City are under immense pressure to win championships every season and therefore, they do not have the time or patience to develop young footballers. Teams like City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and others are preferring instead to buy the finished product.

Still, it looks like it could be an excellent move for Marcos Lopes. He spent last season on loan at Lille and knows the French league well.

“Monaco is an excellent club for a player to develop. It is going to be a good challenge for me,” he said.

Monaco will be a club to watch for fans of the Portuguese game. Coentrão and Lopes join Bernardo Silva, Ivan Cavaleiro, Ricardo Carvalho, João Moutinho and Hélder Costa, to bring the total to seven Portuguese players.

In Spain, the club to watch is Valencia, which boasts three talented young Portuguese players in Ruben Vezo, Andre Gomes and João Cancelo. Not to mention Portuguese manager Nuno Espírito Santo. There are also strong Portuguese contingents at Real Madrid and Sevilla.

In two lesser known cases, English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday has a strong Portuguese presence as well. As does Ligue 2 club Metz, which recently added Daniel Candeias and Tiago Gomes.

Elsewhere, Portugal U21 defender Tiago Ilori was loaned by Liverpool to Premier League club Aston Villa. It will be his third loan spell since leaving Sporting in 2013. Undoubtedly talented but he has been terribly unlucky with injuries.

Seleção in action

Portugal will face Euro 2016 hosts France in a friendly on Friday in Lisbon before traveling to Albania for a qualifier next Monday. Fernando Santos will be without Moutinho, William Carvalho, Coentrão and Andre Gomes because of injuries.

According to reports, Santos has been practicing with a midfield trio of Danilo, Adrien and João Mário. The Portuguese manager is expected to drop the ‘false 9’ in favour of Éder as the striker, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. French-born Adrien spoke about the match against France.

“France is a great squad but so is Portugal. I believe it will be a very close match. We need to control possession and take advantage of France’s weaknesses,” Adrien.

Portugal are in first-place in group I with three matches left. The Seleção lost to Albania 1-0 in their first Euro 2016 qualifying match last September. It would prove to be Paulo Bento’s last match in charge of Portugal. No doubt revenge will be on the mind of some of the players.

Rui Jorge’s new-look U21 squad will also face Albania in its first Euro 2017 qualifier on 8 September. It is the squad’s first match since the loss to Sweden on penalties in the final at the last European Championships earlier this summer. Gonçalo Paciência was forced to withdraw because of an ankle injury. Belenenses winger Fábio Sturgeon has taken his place on the squad.

Sporting Fans

Sporting got their season off to a positive start by beating city-rivals Benfica in the Portuguese Super Cup at Algarve Stadium on Sunday.

It was an absolute storybook beginning to life at Sporting for manager Jorge Jesus. His precipitous departure from Benfica in the summer added a touch of drama rarely seen at the Portuguese Super Cup.

After the win, the Portuguese manager was uncharacteristically modest, deciding instead to credit his players for winning the match.

“The big winner is Sporting and its players. It is not easy for a club to come together like that in five weeks. It demonstrates the intelligence of these players,” he said.

The match itself lacked the intensity and rhythm of a typical Lisbon derby. There were few chances and ended with a solitary goal by André Carrillo. Sporting striker Teó Gutiérrez had a goal wrongfully ruled out for offside in the first half. Early in the second, Carrillo’s shot from distance was deflected off Gutiérrez into the goal.

Sporting controlled the balance of play for most of the match and were deserving winners in the end. João Mário was behind many of the club’s attacks. The 4-4-2 system seemed to work for the club, at least on Sunday. The Lions were able to keep the pressure on Benfica throughout.

The match sets the stage for both clubs this season. Jorge Jesus was brought to Sporting to win titles and did so in his first match, albeit a rather meaningless one. For Benfica and new manager Rui Vitoria, the pressure continues to mount. Right-back Nélson Semedo was a surprise addition to the Benfica line-up and was impressive. He could be a player to watch this season.

Big three load up

Portuguese clubs continue to bolster their line-ups. Last week, Benfica signed Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou on loan from English club Fulham. He will be counted on to replace Lima who left for Qatar in July.

Not to be outdone, Sporting signed Italian international midfielder Alberto Aquilani to a three-year contract. The 31-year-old arrives on a free transfer. The Lions also added 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Bruno Paulista from Bahia. Sporting were in talks to sign Kevin-Prince Boateng last week but the Ghanaian failed his medical.

Sporting also loaned Miguel Lopes to La Liga club Granada. The club will play CSKA Moscow in their Champions League play-off on 18 August and 26 August.

At the Dragão, FC Porto added volatile Italian-Argentinian striker Dani Osvaldo. He was released by Southampton last season. Aly Cissokho has also joined the club on loan from Aston Villa. This will be his second spell with the club. They start their season at home against Vitória Guimarães on Saturday.

Young stars shine again

Bernardo Silva continues to amaze. The 21-year-old was inexplicably left out of Monaco’s starting XI on Saturday against Nice. After his club went down, he was subbed in and scored early in the second half. They would come back and win 2-1. On Monday, it was announced that the youngster has signed an extension with the club until 2020.

Fellow U21 star, Ivan Cavaleiro also appears to be settling in well at the principality since arriving in the summer. He scored a brilliant goal against BSC Young Boys in their third-round Champions league playoff, helping them advance.

And on Sunday, Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares had a dream debut for Southampton against Newcastle United. In the first half, he delivered a perfect cross to Graziano Pellè to put his club ahead. The match would end in a 2-2 draw.