Liga NOS 2019/20 officially reached the halfway point in a dramatic weekend of action. Sporting lost the Lisbon derby against Benfica in what could be captain Bruno Fernandes’ final game for the club, while Porto lost ground on the defending champions as Braga stunned them at Estádio do Dragão, all taking place on Friday night.
However there was also a significant clash at the opposite end of the table as bottom two sides Aves and Portimonense battled it out. The former ended the match in triumph and saw a standout performance from a young rising star in Portugal, 21 year old Zidane Banjaqui, who is the PortuGOAL Figure of the Week.
Portuguese/Guinea-Bissau national Zidane Banjaqui got his start in Benfica’s youth sides, joining up with Aves to represent their U23 team back in 2018 having cut his teeth in the 3rd tier previously with Mirandela.
Good form in the Liga Revelação saw him earn a call up to Aves’ senior squad for their match with Moreirense in late November and he has stayed with them ever since as his influence has steadily grown. Banjaqui’s versatility has been key, able to play centrally and in the wider areas of midfield, and he has done so with a remarkable level of confidence and competence for one of so little prior top-flight experience.
He caught the eye in a good team display away to Benfica last weekend as the league’s bottom side ultimately were a little unfortunate to taste a late defeat, but on Saturday afternoon against Portimonense he was absolutely outstanding in what felt like a must-win match against their fellow strugglers.
Aves looked the more dangerous side during a goalless first half, and Banjaqui was one of those helping to make things happen. His dangerous set piece caused havoc in the opposition defence and Kevin Yamga really should have done better with the eventual effort on goal.
Welinton Júnior was also looking ever dangerous to Portimonense, the Brazilian striking the crossbar from range before then being the man to break the deadlock early in the second half. Banjaqui played no small role, showing strength in midfield to hold off his opponent and play a terrific through ball to Welinton, who did brilliantly to control the pass and fire home from the angle.
Aves’ confidence was suddenly sky high and they nearly doubled their lead moments later, Banjaqui narrowly missing the target with his weaker left foot from the edge of the area. He got his goal in the 74th minute though as the home side counter-attacked to devastating effect, as Mehrdad Mohammadi’s precision pass found Banjaqui’s perfectly-timed run and he prodded past Ricardo Ferreira to make it 2-0.
The game was well and truly wrapped up with 12 minutes remaining. The industrious Banjaqui again instrumental, dispossessing Bruno Costa before feeding Welinton, who in turn assisted Mohammadi for a deserved goal.
3-0 the final score, a resounding scoreline for Aves which was wholly merited, particularly on the balance of the second half.
The victory still sees Aves rooted in the relegation zone but it should at least provide a modicum of hope in their bid to survive the drop under new coach Nuno Manta.
Manta has unearthed some young gems in his short time at the club and none look more promising than Banjaqui, he’s one to watch in the months to come.
By Jamie Farr