The Benfica camp will be counting down the fixtures ahead of what the Primeira Liga title holders are trying to turn into a fourth successive triumph.
FC Porto continue to breathe down their necks, but a hard-fought 2-1 win at home to Estoril sees Rui Vitória’s team surpass another hurdle in the hunt for the championship.
The Dragons replied with a 2-0 victory away to Chaves to maintain a three-point-gap just behind the league leaders, whereas in this weekend’s other main card, late drama in Braga saw a Bas Dost treble earn Sporting a big away win.
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Benfica 2-1 Estoril
Having escaped the prospect of defeat in last week’s Lisbon derby, all Benfiquistas had their eyes firmly locked on collecting victories in the final weeks of the season, starting with Estoril’s visit to the Estádio da Luz.
Eduardo Salvio claimed the first real chance to kick the Eagles’ plan into gear, escaping Estoril’s backline with a diagonal run in the 16th minute, but the Argentine’s strike after cutting inside could only go wide of the mark.
Nélson Semedo earned his side an easier avenue to the all-important first goal when going down for a penalty in the 27th minute, with Jonas making no mistake from 12 yards and placing Benfica a goal up.
Franco Cervi wasted the perfect opportunity to double the hosts’ lead in the 37th minute, pouncing onto a rebound from close range before blasting a volley way over his desired target.
His compatriot, Salvio, didn’t have much luck in front of goal either after guiding a shot wide from a frontal position, as the two sides entered half time separated by a Jonas penalty.
Estoril emerged from the break as the more threatening of the two teams, going close to claiming an equaliser after Mattheus Oliveira’s through ball to Kléber split Benfica’s defence in half, only for the Brazilian striker to waste the fine opportunity with a tame chip into Ederson’s grasp.
Mattheus was at the heart of another highlight for the side from Grande Lisboa, this time feeding Licá at the near-post from a 55th minute corner, as Ederson denied the winger by tipping his header over the crossbar.
Saved by the woodwork
Ederson would be left with no response in Estoril’s next try at goal, as Ailton rattled the crossbar with a fierce strike from outside of the area in the 56th minute. The woodwork would come to Benfica’s rescue no less than a minute later, this seeing Mattheus hit the outside of the post from a well-hit free kick.
Estoril would finally make their more positive phase in the game count on top of the hour mark, with Kléber closing in on Ederson’s goal again, poking an effort under the Brazilian shot-stopper and levelling the game.
All of the visitors’ hard work was cruelly undone by a moment of genius from Jonas, however, taking the ball in his stride in the 65th minute and dispatching a well-placed finish into the top corner that would take Benfica ahead once more.
Raúl Jiménez and Álex Grimaldo both wasted good chances to increase the Red & Whites’ lead, but 2-1 would be enough to keep their quest for the title on track.
Chaves 0-2 FC Porto
Form has deserted the Dragons in recent weeks, which won’t have done the nerves any good ahead of a difficult away trip that needed to be won if they were to have any hope of reclaiming the league title after three dry seasons.
A cagey start saw emotions run high in the 33rd minute when the officials snubbed calls for a Porto penalty after it appeared Pedro Queirós had handled inside the box, with Tiquinho Soares taking his frustrations out with a well-hit strike from range a minute later, subsequently saved by António Filipe.
Two free-kicks from Rúben Neves called the Chaves keeper into further action soon after, with the score locked at 0-0 going into the break.
Soares would ensure the wait for the game’s first goal would be no more, pouncing onto the follow-up as António Filipe couldn’t hold onto André André’s strike from outside the box to make it 1-0 in the 52nd minute.
With little response coming from the home end, André André took the opportunity to make it 2-0, leaving Filipe dead in his tracks with a sly finish into the bottom-right corner in the 73rd minute.
Porto’s 2-0 victory would later be blemished by Maxi Pereira, minutes shy of the 90th minute, as a wild two-footed lunge from the Uruguayan earned him a red card and a pending suspension before the final whistle.
Braga 2-3 Sporting
With one eye on battling for 4th place, Sporting de Braga welcomed Abel Ferreira, formerly in charge of their B team, as the new head coach at the Quarry.
Destiny saw Abel’s former club as a player, Sporting, become his first opponent as Braga’s full-time coach on Sunday evening, although coincidently Abel had also been in charge on an interim basis – and won – the reverse fixture back in December 2016.
Gelson Martins kick-started the affair with a delicate dink in the 3rd minute that was tipped over the bar for a corner by Braga’s José Marafona.
The ‘Arsenalistas’ replied through Rui Fonte in the 13th minute, poking an effort onto the crossbar, but Ricardo Horta was on hand to latch onto the rebound and fizz a low volley into the net to give Abel’s team the 1-0 advantage early on.
Life became that little bit harder for Sporting when Alan Ruiz slipped and stayed down holding his knee, with a forced substitution in the 26th minute, calling time on a strike partnership with Bas Dost that’s led the line for months.
His replacement, Daniel Podence, wasted no time and earned the Lions a penalty on the half-hour mark, but Adrien Silva made tough work of the spot-kick when firing wide.
Nikola Stojiljković then thought he had doubled Braga’s lead in the 40th minute, but his improvised close-range header was correctly chalked off for offside.
Five minutes into the second period, the hosts were again tasked with denying a Sporting penalty from going in, as Marcelo Goiano tugged Gelson down on his way into the area.
Dost was the man to claim responsibility for this one, sending Marafona the wrong way and converting from 12 yards with relative ease in the 50th minute.
Resilience from Marvin Zeegelaar earned the Dutchman plenty of time to pick out his compatriot, Dost, with a cross from the left, as the latter escaped Braga’s marking and completed Sporting’s turnaround with his head in the 75th minute.
The hosts were far from finished, however, equalising no less than four minutes later through Rui Fonte, who tapped in Pedro Santos’ cutback from close range.
But Dost would go on to have the final say, ghosting at the far-post to attack Ezequiel Schelotto’s deep cross in freedom and grab the winner – and yet another hat-trick – in the 84th minute.
The encounter would end 3-2 to Sporting, solidifying third place and offering a mere consolation in what’s been a difficult week for Jorge Jesus away from football.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Vit. Setúbal 0-2 Vit. Guimarães
Boavista 1-0 Tondela
Nacional 0-2 Rio Ave
Benfica 2-1 Estoril
Chaves 0-2 FC Porto
Feirense 2-1 Marítimo
Arouca 2-2 Moreirense
Braga 2-3 Sporting
Belenenses 1-2 P. Ferreira