Hopes were high among fans of Portugal’s Big Three as European football returned this week. On Tuesday Porto fell to a narrow defeat in Italy, with Adrián López’s late goal improving the Dragons’ chances of getting past Roma in the return leg and making the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
In the Europa League, Benfica are well set to make progress after beating Galatasaray in Turkey, but Sporting left themselves with a mountain to climb after losing 1-0 at home to Villarreal. Elsewhere, there were draws for frustrated Portuguese coaches Pedro Martins and Paulo Fonseca, while Portuguese players abroad fared better in the Europa League.
AS Roma 2-1 FC Porto
Porto came into match without the injured Moussa Marega, who joined striker Vincent Aboubakar in the treatment room, while Jesús Corona was also out through suspension.
Nevertheless, for the first hour the Portuguese champions competed well and held Roma at bay relatively comfortably. Edin Dzeko was the home side’s most dangerous player, the Bosnian unlucky not to break the deadlock before half time when he controlled a looping ball and turned Militão brilliantly before smacking a shot against the post.
At the start of the second half Porto began to enjoy possession for lengthy periods, frequently pushing into Roma’s defensive half, although the crossing was disappointing from both flanks, even from the usually dependable Alex Telles. When Porto’s left-back at last fizzed over one of his trademark crosses from a corner Danilo thought he had scored but his header flashed agonisingly wide.
The turning point in the match came midway through the second half as the lively Brahimi sprained his ankle and was forced off. Deprived of the out-ball provided by the Algerian’s trickery and ability to retain possession, Roma began to surge forward with more purpose, and two goals in quick succession suddenly put them in an extremely advantageous position in the tie.
Teenage midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo stole the headlines with both goals, but on both occasions Dzeko was the architect, first showing wonderful control and awareness in the box to tee up his young team-mate, then rifling a 25-yard shot against the post, with Zaniolo again on hand to knock in the rebound.
Porto reacted well to the double setback, though, with López finishing smartly as Soares’ miss-hit shot fell kindly for him, and Héctor Herrera almost grabbed an equaliser with a terrific shot from distance that whistled inches past the post as the visitors finished strongly. Despite the defeat, a 1-0 victory in the return leg at the Dragão would be enough take the Portuguese team through, and this tie is still very much alive.
Galatasaray 1-2 Benfica
Benfica made wholesale changes to the side that achieved a historic 10-0 victory over Nacional on Sunday, Bruno Lage changing half the team and giving opportunities to academy graduates Yuri Ribeiro and Florentino Luís. With João Félix, Gedson Fernandes, Rúben Dias and Ferro also in the line-up, the Eagles started the game with six players “made in Seixal”.
And while the performance was understandably not at the same level as in recent weeks, the indications given by the young and lesser used players will have pleased Lage, especially the display by holding midfielder Florentino, who repeated his promising showings while wearing the Portugal shirt at youth levels.
Things did not start well for Benfica however, with Galatasaray threatening to overwhelm the visitors in the opening stages, and Corchia averted what seemed like a certain goal for Onyekuru. But the Turks were stopped in their tracks in the 27th minute when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after ruling that Marcão had handled in the box. Salvio made no mistake to put the Eagles ahead.
Roared on by the raucous home fans, Galatasary were level 10 minutes into the second half as Nagatomo’s cross was finished by Luyindama. Despite their inexperience, Benfica refused to buckle, Florentino and Gedson showing maturity beyond their years to exert a level of control in midfield. And Benfica put themselves firmly in charge of the tie when Seferovic continued his hot streak by finishing smartly in 64th minute to give the Portuguese team a precious 2-1 victory.
Sporting 0-1 Villarreal
Marcel Keizer made 7 changes to the starting line-up he fielded against Nacional, as the Dutch coach tried to inject life into Sporting after a series of tired-looking displays. Only Sebastián Coates, Marcos Acuña, Bruno Fernandes and Bas Dost made the cut from the last match.
The home team could not have had a worse start as Nigerian forward Samuel Chukwueze, who caused problems for the Lions all night, sped past Acuña and crossed into the box, the ball eventually reaching Alfonso Pedraza who finished emphatically from 15 yards.
The crowd initially tried to lift the hosts, but nerves and a patent lack of cohesion were getting the better of Sporting’s players, who struggled to string together more than a couple or three of passes at a time and were at a loss about how to break through the Villarreal midfield, let alone ask questions of the visiting defence.
By contrast the Spanish side, languishing in penultimate place in La Liga, looked to be enjoying a break from their fight for survival, stringing together several neat moves with crisp, quick passing, albeit without much end product.
After a dreadful first half, Sporting fans hoping for an improvement after the break were disappointed as the match continued in the same vein. On a night of a collective and individual no-show, even the usually excellent Bruno Fernandes was fluffing his lines. In the one moment of genuine quality, Raphinha produced a lovely piece of skill to beat his man and cross low and hard for Bas Dost, whose firm first-time shot was brilliantly saved by former Porto goalkeeper Andrés Fernandes.
Soon afterwards Raphinha hit the outside of the post from a corner, but just when it seemed Sporting may build a head of steam, Acuña picked up a senseless second yellow card for a rash two-footed challenge and was sent off.
At the final whistle angry fans waved white handkerchiefs and with Braga coming to Alvalade on Sunday, followed by the second leg against Villarreal next week, things could soon get worse for coach Marcel Keizer.
Gil Dias scores screamer but late Kiev goal leaves Martins’ Olympiakos frustrated
Olympiakos coach Pedro Martins admitted his team paid the price for not punishing Dinamo Kiev after the Ukrainian team scored a 90th-minute equaliser to earn a 2-2 draw from their Europa League tie in Piraeus.
Martins’ side twice led in Greece – the second time through Gil Dias’ sensational long-range strike – but were pegged back both times by the visitors, who take two away goals back to Ukraine for the return leg next week.
“It is clear that in the second half we were subconsciously cautious because we had a lead to defend,” Martins said after the match. “We should have been pushing more. In the first half we started well and were effective, winning many balls to create chances and we got the two goals.
“In the second half we dropped off which was because of our subconscious. We should not have done that. It was a mistake. We could have taken a 3-1 to Ukraine. But this is the result so we have to move forward and we have a chance to get through.”
Martins, who selected a Portuguese trio of goalkeeper José Sá, midfielder Daniel Podence and new arrival Gil Dias, was rightly happy with the start made by his side. Olympiakos enjoyed a positive first twenty minutes, with Koka’s 9th-minute striker the least the hosts deserved. However, Vitaliy Buyalskky silenced the home crowd with a leveller on 27 minutes.
Wonder goal from Gil Dias
Former Rio Ave attacker Gil Dias scored his second goal for the club five minutes before half time, and it was a sensational strike from the January signing, who arrived on loan from Monaco having spent the first half of the season in England with Nottingham Forest. Kiev failed to properly clear their lines after a free-kick and a clearance landed to Gil 30 yards out, with the Portuguese controlling the ball on his chest before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed shot past Denis Boyko.
Martins’ other two Portuguese were involved in the second half, with goalkeeper Sá doing well to keep the home side ahead with a sharp save to deny Vitkor Tsygankov, before Podence failed to find the target with an opening a minute later. Such missed chances proved costly when substitute Verbic tied the game up with a finish that went into the ground before evading Sá in the Olympiakos goal.
Next up for Olympiakos is a home match with AEK Athens in the Greek Super League, and the game is a must-win after a 3-1 defeat last weekend at leaders PAOK left Martins' men 9 points off the top. “[The fact we have conceded five goals in two games] is something we are very concerned about,” the former Vitória Guimarães boss admitted. “It’s something we need to change immediately because we have seen carelessness and loss of concentration. We need to be more effective defensively and of course this is the case if we want to beat AEK.”
Fonseca unimpressed with referee as 10-man Shakhtar hold Frankfurt
Shakhtar Donetsk survived the early dismissal of midfielder Taras Stepanenko to twice come from behind and draw 2-2 with Germans Eintracht Frankfurt at home, maintaining their hopes of progression in the Europa League.
An action-packed first ten minutes in Kharkiv saw both teams score before Shakhtar’s Stepanenko was sent off for a second booking. Poor goalkeeping from Andriy Piyatov allowed Martin Hinteregger’s header to cross the line and give the visitors the lead on 7 minutes, but the Ukrainians responded instantly and Marlos levelled from the penalty spot after Obite N’Dicka was adjudged to have fouled Taison by English referee Anthony Taylor.
Taylor was quickly centre of attention two minutes later when he issued a second yellow to Stepanenko for a foul on Sebastian Rode, with the dismissal infuriating Shakhtar boss Fonseca. Although Fonseca’s side managed to reach the interval level at 1-1, Frankfurt retook the lead five minutes into the second period through Filip Kostic, with Taison again equalising midway through the second period to keep 10-man Shakhtar with a chance of progression ahead of the return in Germany.
"Lesser of two evils"
”Of course I’m never fully satisfied with a draw, but if you take into account every circumstance of the game, this is probably the lesser of two evils, the best of what you can choose,” Fonseca told his post-match press conference.
“It’s always very difficult after such a long winter break to return with a game of this level. To remain with just ten men in the 11th minute. Of course, this completely upsets the game plan. We lost one of the key players, the guys had to run more and work harder, but they succeeded. Our objective for the week is to restore the players as quickly as possible and to prepare the strategy.”
On the referee’s decision which infuriated him so much, former Porto boss Fonseca admits he has not changed his mind on the issue. “ I remain unconvinced, I don’t agree,” he said. “The second card is too far-fetched. That kind of decision early in such a serious game, in my opinion, is wrong. With all due respect, even after the game, I approached the referee and expressed my disagreement.”
Shakhtar travel to Frankfurt next Thursday for the return leg. Fonseca’s men will not need to look far for inspiration ahead of the trip, having won 3-2 in Germany against Hoffenheim earlier this season in the Champions League group phase.
Portuguese Abroad Round-up
The only Portuguese involved in this week’s Champions League action was Raphaël Guerreiro, although the Borussia Dortmund man had to settle for a place on the bench as the German Bundesliga leaders lost 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday. Despite a goal at the weekend against Hoffenheim, Guerreiro only appeared for two minutes in London as Dortmund conceded three second half goals. Diogo Dalot watched from the bench as Manchester United were beaten 2-0 at home by Paris Saint-Germain.
The Europa League yielded positive results for Portuguese representing clubs abroad, with perhaps the best result seeing Sevilla record an impressive 1-0 first-leg win at Lazio with André Silva playing 90 minutes. Fellow Spaniards Valencia also enjoyed a strong away win, beating Celtic 2-0 in Glasgow as Gonçalo Guedes continues his comeback with a half hour cameo in Glasgow.
Another La Liga team on the road was Real Betis, who were involved in a six-goal thriller against French side Rennes. William Carvalho played the full game for Betis, who came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at Roazhon Park. Finally, Cédric Soares played the full 90 minutes at right-back as Inter beat Rapid Vienna 1-0 in Austria.
By Tom Kundert & Sean Gillen