Sp. Braga 3-0 Benfica
Sporting de Braga have dealt Benfica their first league defeat of the season by marking the return of the Primeira Liga, post-World Cup, with a 3-0 win at the Estádio Municpal.
The hosts raced ahead with an early 1-0 lead, nabbed by Abel Ruiz in a blistering start for Artur Jorge’s men against the previously undefeated Roger Schmidt.
Benfica were then made to watch on as their long-term transfer target Ricardo Horta found the back of the net either side of the interval, inflating Braga’s lead to a three-goal advantage and reinstating their points margin over fourth-placed Sporting, whereas the gap at the top of the table shortens to just five points.
Pre-game, Enzo Fernández took a handsome share of the focus after re-appearing in the Benfica XI for the first time since the World Cup, despite strong indications that he could soon be on the brink of a hefty transfer out of the club.
Sporting de Braga quickly stole that thunder, however, with a super-quick start against the league leaders, striking gold inside the first couple of minutes.
As the Eagles failed to clear their lines from a Braga set-piece, a lifted pass over the backline was pounced on by Abel Ruiz, who only needed to pick his spot past Odisseas Vlachodimos on his favoured left foot.
Left shaken by the quick start, Benfica struggled to find a response prior to Braga’s re-emergence in the final third, threatening once more via André Horta in the 25th minute. Just two minutes later, Ruiz edged the hosts even closer to goal number two with a placed effort on the edge of the box, denied only by a strong palm from the under-fire Vlachodimos.
Braga 3-0 Benfica highlights
The Bracarenses continued to suffocate the visitors at the Estádio Municipal, earning their just reward in the 32nd minute from Ricardo Horta inside the box, with Vlachodimos, this time, looking far less convincing in his attempt to keep Braga out.
A pinch of controversy followed both sides into the interval as the hosts were left claiming a penalty against Benfica, accusing Alexander Bah of handling the ball inside the box, but the referee showed no interest in the calls as he called time on the first period, stationed at 2-0.
The introduction of Petar Musa off the Benfica bench was met with a more contained iteration of Braga, who were still capable of conveying some danger via Iuri Medeiros, despite dropping deeper into their own half.
Unable to find a way through in the early exchanges of the second period, Fredrick Aursnes sought an alternative route from range, making Matheus sweat with a drilled shot just wide of the mark in the 66th minute.
The pressure invited the Braga counter at the other end and in the 70th minute, the home side executed their game plan with a lasting effect on the score-line as Medeiros raced onto a long ball from Matheus, picking out the unmarked Ricardo Horta prior to the forward’s simple finish, making it 3-0.
Left hopeless, Benfica succumbed to the advantage picked up by Braga, bowing out of 2022 with a defeat that sees their advantage over second-placed FC Porto trickle back down to five points.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Sp. Braga XI: Matheus - Nuno Sequeira, Sikou Niakhate (Tormena, 74’), Paulo Oliveira, Víctor Gómez - Ali Al-Musrati, Uros Racic, André Horta (Castro, 82’) - Ricardo Horta (Rodrigo Gomes, 88’), Iuri Medeiros (Hernâni, 74’), Abel Ruiz (Vitinha, 82’)
Benfica XI: Odisseas Vlachodimos - Alex Grimaldo, Nicolás Otamendi, António Silva, Alexander Bah (Gilberto, 72’) - Florentino Luís (Petar Musa, 45’), Enzo Fernández (Chiquinho, 88’), Fredrik Aursnes - João Mário (Julian Draxler, 72’), Rafa Silva, Gonçalo Ramos (João Neves, 88)
1-0 - Abel Ruiz (2’)
2-0 - Ricardo Horta (32’)
3-0 - Ricardo Horta (70’)