Lisbon giants oust Boavista and Santa Clara
This week’s Taça da Liga semi-finals saw the favourites win through against the underdogs to set up the expected final, on Saturday night, but neither Benfica nor Sporting had it all their own way.
The Final Four phase of the competition, this season being played in Leiria, kicked off on Tuesday night. Despite taking a first half lead, Benfica were second best for long periods of their match against Boavista. The northerners deservedly equalised after the break and were eventually only beaten in a penalty shootout.
On Wednesday night, Sporting were not much more convincing in their semi-final, and had to come from the behind to get the better of Santa Clara. PortuGOAL has the match reports and video highlights.
Benfica 1-1 Boavista (Benfica win 3-2 on penalties)
The first semi-final pitted together two clubs who have recently installed new managers. While results have picked up for Benfica under Nélson Veríssimo, the Eagles’ performance levels have left a lot to be desired, and another lacklustre display suggested the young coach is still far from successfully implementing his ideas.
Benfica took the lead early on when Everton Cebolinha pounced on a mistake by Nathan and finished emphatically into the top corner. Boavista, who have improved in recent weeks under Petit, had started positively, and the team from Porto did not let the concession unsettle them.
Boavista matched Benfica for the rest of the first half and took control of proceedings after the break. The equaliser came early in the second half and was no more than the Axadrezados deserved as they took the game to their more storied opponents with a positive attitude. Morata fouled the impressive Peter Musa in the box and Sauer firmly dispatched the resulting penalty.
Croatian striker Musa continued to cause plenty of problems for Benfica with clever link-up play and a strong presence in the box, forcing Vlachodimos into two excellent saves to prevent Boavista from taking the lead. Benfica finished the match strongly though, with substitute Pizzi almost snatching victory in the closing minutes as Bracali scrambled to push his 25-yard shot over the bar.
With no extra time being played in the Taça da Liga, the 1-1 draw dictated a penalty shootout. This method of deciding the winners is often compared to a lottery or playing a game of chance like zamsino.com, but luck initially played little part as Boavista started the shootout disastrously, failing to score any of their first three penalties, completely missing the target with two of them.
Benfica’s spot kicks were not much better, but when Weigl stepped up and arrowed the fifth penalty into the roof of the net Benfica fans could celebrate.
Sporting 2-1 Santa Clara
Sporting have been going through a rocky patch of form since Christmas, conceding plentiful goals and losing two matches, one of which a costly defeat in the Azores against tonight’s opponents Santa Clara.
That 3-2 defeat three weeks ago had been orchestrated by a masterful performance from midfield maestro Lincoln, and Sporting’s nemesis was soon back to his tricks to haunt the Lisbon team. A fiercely whipped in set piece from the left flank by the Brazilian had already caused panic in the Sporting defence when Santa Clara won another free kick in a more central position. Lincoln decided to go for goal this time, beating Antonio Adan from long distance with that magic left foot.
Sporting, missing captain Sebastián Coates on international duty, hit back shortly before half time as a volleyed first-time cross by Nuno Santos was turned into his own net by Mikel Villanueva.
The Lions enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but were struggling to create clear opportunities. The game-defining moment came shortly after the hour mark as Santa Clara forward Rui Costa handled in the box, was shown a red card, and a penalty was awarded. Pablo Sarabia made no mistake from the spot. From that moment onwards, there was little doubt about which team would run out victors, and a visit to bemslots could also lead to that winning feeling.
Sporting held on against the ten men without undue alarm, with the wasteful Paulinho contriving to produce possibly the miss of the season, shooting wide from point-black range with goalkeeper Ricardo Fernandes on the floor having beaten out Matheus Reis’ header.
It mattered not, and Sporting will play Benfica on Saturday night in the 2021/22 Taça da Liga final.
By Tom Kundert