PortuGOAL Figure of the Week: Two-goal Safira the gem in Vitória’s crown

Jornada 23 of the 2022/23 Liga Bwin season contained within it the familiar feeling of the traditional top four all tasting victory, in the case of Porto and Braga it was positive responses to disappointments the round previous, the pair overcoming Chaves and Rio Ave respectively to get back on track.

Benfica remained imperious at the top after a win over Famalicão, and Sporting’s recent run of good results went on by beating Portimonense. Vizela arrested a slump by defeating Estoril, while Gil Vicente’s excellent moment continued courtesy of triumph against Marítimo.

Another team very much in the groove is Vitória Guimarães. Buoyed after derby success over Braga last week, they continued their positive momentum into their game at Santa Clara, where Brazilian forward and PortuGOAL Figure of the Week Alisson Safira shone to maintain his own rich vein of form.

Now in his second season in Primeira Liga, Alisson Pelegrini Safira initially arrived in Portugal at Belenenses SAD following a career exclusively based in his native Brazil, where he often struggled for permanency amid a series of loans from his then parent club Londrina-PR. His debut season in Liga Bwin didn’t exactly go to plan with his team relegated from the top flight, although his total of six league goals was reasonable, particularly given the paucity of chances he was faced with as well as some injury issues.

That season’s sixth-placed side Vitória Guimarães were sufficiently convinced of his talents, picking up the Brazilian for €350,000 last summer. Safira’s original role in the team was backup striker to compatriots André Silva and Anderson, but the pair’s relative lack of sharpness in front of goal of late, and indeed the former’s recent adaptation to the left wing, has seen manager Moreno experiment more with his frontline.

Doing so appears to have been an inspired move, with Vitória unbeaten in the last five matches that Safira has spear-headed the attack from the start. The striker has also scored four times in that period, the latest of which coming in Sunday afternoon’s trip to the Azores to face a struggling Santa Clara side.

Despite the teams’ contrasting fortunes on the pitch of late, the match didn’t represent too straightforward a task for Vitória, Moreno’s men having plenty of absences to cope with. Crucially, these did not encompass what is becoming an increasingly effective front three, as Safira was flanked by André Silva and Jota Silva, the trio keeping their place after helping Vitória to derby day delight against Braga the week previous.

The away side started the stronger and opened the scoring with 22 minutes on the clock, albeit in somewhat fortuitous fashion. Centre-back Mikel Villanueva found the run of left full-back Afonso Freitas, whose cut-back was diverted into Safira from the stretching André Silva and into the net.

A lucky break for Vitória and one Santa Clara never recovered from. Smelling blood, Moreno’s team extended their advantage eight minutes later as Safira struck once more, although this time there was no helping hands with regards to his predatory finish. This time the opposite wing-back Miguel Maga supplied the delivery, his cross into the box following a short corner finding Safira who did well to generate the necessary power on his header to beat Gabriel Batista in the home side goal.

Just before half time it was 3-0. Safira nudged opposition defender Ítalo out of the way, allowing Vitória keeper Rafa’s long ball to find André Silva, who did the rest from distance via a deflection.

Very early in the second half Safira almost completed his hat-trick, meeting Jota Silva’s cross from the right hand side with a diving near post header, directing his effort wide in the end. The Brazilian was withdrawn not long after the hour mark with the job done, a consolation goal for Santa Clara failing to prevent anything other than a comfortable three points for Vitória, tightening their grip of 5th place in the league with it.

Safira’s transition from a peripheral figure in Vitória’s squad to currently near-undroppable is quite impressive, as is his record of nine goals in all competitions, particularly factoring in he has only started seven matches during the campaign. His form has helped turn his team’s objective of securing a top five finish into a probability rather than the uphill task it represented only a handful of games ago.

By Jamie Farr