The picturesque and mountainous Trás-os-Montes region – as the translation of its name ‘Beyond the Mountains’, suggests – has the feel of being cut off from the rest of Portugal. It is here, a few miles from the border with Spain, that the country’s most northern top-flight team is to be found.
Thus began an article focusing on Chaves and their then coach, Jorge Simão, in the December 2016 edition of World Soccer Magazine. The piece had been commissioned following the club’s impressive start to the campaign.
Last night, a late header from Carlos Ponck gave Chaves a Portuguese Cup quarter-final victory over troubled Sporting. It is a second scalp to fall at the Estadio Municipal Engenheiro Manuel Branco Teixeira, Porto having been knocked out on penalties at the same venue earlier in the competition.
Back in the big time after a 17-year hiatus outside of Portugal’s top division, Chaves have maintained their positive start, even following the loss of Simão, who left to take over at Braga in December. New coach Ricardo Soares has guided Chaves to two victories and two draws in four matches, which includes a trip to Rio Ave and successive games against Sporting.
“This victory brings a sensation of happiness, obviously. When I look to the stands and see our fans with this feeling it’s marvellous,” said Soares. “It was a deserved win. I want to dedicate the victory to the president, who believed in me, a young coach.”
Unlike so many other places in Portugal, when any of the Big Three of Benfica, Porto or Sporting roll into town, their accompanying fans do not outnumber or outshout the local supporters, who are fiercely proud of their football team, and the intimidating atmosphere for visitors helps explain the team’s outstanding home record.
Only three-time Portuguese champions Benfica have escaped from Chaves with victory, scraping a somewhat fortuitous triumph back in September.
They may have taken a long time to get back to the upper echelons of Portuguese football, but Chaves are making the most of it, and there is a very real chance of repeating a feat last achieved in the club’s heyday at the end of the 1980s: European qualification.
Chaves lie seventh in the Liga NOS and will face either Vitória de Guimarães or Sporting Covilhã in the Portuguese Cup semi-finals.
By Tom Kundert