The weekend action kicked off early in Portugal in Jornada 7 of the Primeira Liga, as Sporting and Porto played on Friday night ahead of their Champions League commitments next week.
Sporting were first to take to the pitch, hosting Marítimo at Alvalade. Despite dominating the match from start to finish, the Lions could not find a way through until a dramatic penalty deep into stoppage time, converted by Pedro Porro, gave the champions a second successive 1-0 victory.
Porto also made heavy weather of earning all three points against Gil Vicente in Barcelos. Two brilliant strikes from Mehdi Taremi and Sérgio Oliveira, the former a 45-yard lob, the latter direct from an 89th-minute free kick, earned the Dragons all three points, with Samuel Lino equalising in between.
The following night Benfica came away from a potentially tricky trip to Guimarães with a 3-1 victory in the bag, with Ukrainian striker Yaremchuk again among the goals.
Sporting 1-0 Marítimo
Buoyed by a hard-earned victory at high-flying Estoril last week, Sporting soon took control against a Marítimo team who failed to trouble Sporting goalkeeper Adán all night save a speculative long-range effort in the first half by Bruno Xadas that flew narrowly over the bar.
Nuno Santos drew the first of several impressive saves out of Marítimo goalkeeper Paulo Victor midway through the first half, and shortly afterwards the same player chipped the keeper but saw his effort strike the crossbar.
Santos again and João Palhinha stung Victor’s hands with rasping efforts shortly after half time, and Sporting then came even closer as the outstanding Pedro Porro saw his cross-shot rebound off the inside of the post and out to safety.
Just when it seemed the islanders would escape with a point, Victor clattered into Jovane Cabral to give away a penalty and was sent off. With all substitutes used, Edgar Costa went in goal but Pedro Porro kept his nerve to strike the ball firmly into the net from the spot.
Gil Vicente 1-2 FC Porto
The hosts started confidently with Murilo going close early on, but Porto took the lead on 9 minutes in spectacular style. Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi stole the ball near the halfway line, took a few steps forward and launched and audacious 45-yard lob into the net over Gil goalkeeper Ziga Frelih.
Lucas then cleared off the line from Fábio Vieira to prevent Porto from doubling their lead, and almost immediately it was all square as the home team were awarded a penalty for handball against Mbemba after the referee checked on the pitch-side monitor. Samuel Lino’s initial effort was saved by Diogo Costa, but Lino scored from the rebound.
The game then went into a lull for 30 minutes either side of half time, until Frelih saved well from Uribe’s header on the hour mark. Taremi then had the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside.
With Porto apparently out of ideas, a draw looked on the cards until the visitors won a late free kick and Sérgio Oliveira stepped up and his inch-perfect execution sent the curling into the top corner.
Both Porto and Sporting move to within one point of leaders Benfica, who play away at Vitória de Guimarães on Saturday night.
Vitória de Guimarães 1-3 Benfica
Benfica travelled to the Estádio Dom Afonso Henriques knowing title rivals Sporting and Porto had both won the previous night. An even start to the match saw the two teams trade chances, Estupiñán close to the opener for Vitória and Rafa Silva firing just past the angle of post and crossbar for the Eagles.
Benfica took control of the match with a quickfire double from Yaremchuk. The Ukrainian produced a deft finish from an excellent Vertonghen pass to put the visitors ahead on 30 minutes. The striker then did well to pressure the Vitória defence into a mistake, subsequently running onto a Rafa assist and squeezing in his finish from a tight angle. Yaremchuk nearly completed his hat-trick on the stroke of half time, Vitória goalkeeper Trmal spreading himself well to make the save.
Benfica put the game to bed in the 73rd minute, Rafa again the provider, leading a quick counter-attack, with João Mário supplying the finish. Vitória pulled one back from the penalty spot and it could have got interesting if André Almeida’s shot soon afterwards had gone in instead of flying a whisker past the post.
Benfica held on and will welcome Barcelona to Lisbon on Wednesday in good heart.
By Tom Kundert