Europa misery as Braga & Belenenses also lose
A fortnight ago all three Portuguese representatives in this season's Europa League won their games, but it was a very different story today.
A disastrous display by Sporting, who were two goals and a man down after just 18 minutes, led to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat against Skenderbeu in Albania.
Belenenses could not repeat their heroics of two weeks ago as they were turned over 2-0 by Basel in the Restelo, while Braga also lost, 1-0 in Marseille.
With Besiktas and Lokomotiv Moscow having drawn 1-1 earlier in the day, Sporting had the perfect opportunity to go joint top of the Group H against a side they had thrashed 5-1 in Lisbon despite fielding a second-string team.
Jorge Jesus again rested most of his regular starters, but from the start it was the hosts that showed more aggression, more ambition and more organisation. Lilaj took advantage of a rebound to put the Skenderbeu ahead after 15 minutes, and shortly afterwards disaster struck for Sporting as Patrício gave away a clumsy penalty and was sent off. Lilaj dispatched the spot kick into the net past substitute goalkeeper Marcelo Boeck to put the home side in complete control.
Ten-man Sporting singularly failed to trouble Skenderbeu - goalkeeper Shehi did not have a single serious save to make all match - and it was little surprise when the Albanians increased their lead shortly before the hour mark, Nimaga producing a perfectly executed lob into the net from over 40 yards after a poor clearance from Boeck.
It could have been worse for the Lions, with Skenderbeu coming close to a fourth goal on several occasions, and to add to Sporting's misery centre-back Ewerton was forced off the pitch with an injury. A night to forget for Sporting, and only a win in Moscow against Lokomotiv in their next match will realistically keep their hopes of staying in Europe this season alive.
Braga's preparations for their match against Marseille had been disrupted by a bizarre incident overnight, as the boots of all their players were stolen from the Velodrome changing rooms.
The Portuguese team even considered sending a private jet to Braga and back to fetch spare boots, but decided against it as those boots would have been new anyway and not properly adapted to their players' feet, so the club officially announced it would play under protest.
Whether the lack of boots played a part or not, Braga were unable to reproduce their performance of the reverse fixture at the quarry, and the French team ran out deserved winners thanks to Nkoudou's first-half goal. Only some fine goalkeeping by Braga stopper Matheus prevented a heavier defeat.
Nevertheless, Braga remain top of Group D with 9 points from 4 games and in a strong position to qualify.
Basel get revenge
Swiss champions Basel arrived at the Restelo determined to put right their shock defeat at St. Jakob Park. A goal in each half from Janko (penalty) and Embolo gave the visitors a deserved win. Belenenses must now beat Polish outfit Lech Poznan at home in their next match to have any hope of making the knockout stages.
by Tom Kundert