Benfica have opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the Primeira Liga table with a 2-0 derby win over Sporting, taking advantage of FC Porto’s earlier loss versus Sporting de Braga at home on Friday night.
Having threatened to overturn a one-goal deficit at the Estádio do Dragão, a late blow from Paulinho earned Braga all three points in a 2-1 victory for Rúben Amorim’s men.
More late drama back in Lisbon powered Benfica onto a 14th consecutive league victory, with Rafa Silva getting his name to both goals in a 2-0 triumph over bitter rivals Sporting. Here's how Friday's Primeira Liga double-header unfolded.
FC Porto 1-2 Sp. Braga
The big tests have started to roll in early for Braga’s new boss Amorim, keen to give his former side, Benfica, a helping hand with a scalp at the Estádio do Dragão versus Porto.
Five minutes is all it took for the visitors to put such a plan in place after Fransérgio, gathering up Porto’s attempts to clear their lines from a corner, slammed home a volley from the edge of the area.
The Brazilian was made to wait, however, to have his goal validated, as the referee assessed Raúl Silva’s involvement from an offside position via VAR before giving the Arsenalistas the all clear to celebrate.
Porto came close to cancelling out Braga’s early lead with a looping header from Iván Marcano in the 10th minute, with the Spaniard’s effort being met by the fingertips of Matheus before roaming over.
The Dragons would earn themselves an even better chance to equalise in the 42nd minute, following Raúl Silva’s mistimed tackle on Jesús Corona inside the box. Alex Telles stepped up to the spot-kick, but again Matheus stood between Porto and the leveller when saving the penalty with his trailing foot, keeping things at 1-0 going into the break.
In the second period, Porto were awarded a further take from the spot after Otávio was brought down by Nuno Sequeira, with Tiquinho Soares elected to face Matheus this time in the 56th minute.
The Brazilian striker’s luck would prove no better against his compatriot, however, as his side-footed attempt headed straight for the outside of the post before going wide to delay Porto’s wait.
Soares himself made amends for the miss just two minutes later, courtesy of Moussa Marega’s timed run down the byline to set the ex-Vitória de Guimarães man up for the equaliser.
But Braga weren’t to be downed by Porto’s crescendo, taking advantage of a rare set-piece in the 75th minute to restore their lead via Paulinho, glancing a header into the far-post.
The away side almost made it 3-1 late on, exposing the hosts’ backline via Galeno before the ex-Porto wide man’s cross evaded everyone inside the box dangerously. Braga wouldn’t need a third to secure a victory, opening up the opportunity for Benfica to go seven points clear of Porto at the top of the table.
Sporting 0-2 Benfica
As if the league leaders needed any more motivation going into a local derby versus Sporting, the news coming out of Porto certainly opened up Benfica’s appetite heading into the Alvalade to face Bruno Fernandes and co.
The first real chance fell Sporting’s way as Rafael Camacho made full use of his blistering pace to skip away from the lackadaisical Ferro before taking aim at the inside of the post, leaving Bruno Lage’s men alleviated at the sight of the ball bouncing back away from goal in the 13th minute.
As Benfica began to grow into the game, Gabriel marked the Eagles’ first real opportunity with a downwards header to force Luis Maximiano into action in the 22nd minute.
The league leaders caused more danger from Alex Grimaldo’s set-piece, missed by André Almeida at the back-post, before Sporting demonstrated they had a bit about them in the air too after Camacho popped up to head Marcos Acuña’s cross at goal, prior to Vlachodimos’ save past the half-hour mark.
Jorge Silas’ men looked to come out on top in front of their home crowd in the second half, with both Idrissa Doumbia and Tiago Ilori testing the Benfica goalkeeper in the early exchanges.
The table-toppers took their chance when it came, however, and it was Rafa, fresh from the bench, who’d take advantage of a loose ball inside the box to side-foot a shot past the goalkeeper in the 80th minute.
Left without a reply, Rafa was on hand to double his and Benfica’s account for the day upon Haris Seferovic’s assist, taking the Swiss striker’s pass down on his chest before angling a half-volley with the outside of his foot and clinch a 2-0 victory.
By Patrick Ribeiro