Benfica are the 2022/23 champions of Portugal after beating Santa Clara 3-0 in front of their ecstatic fans at the Estádio da Luz to spark wild celebrations throughout Lisbon that are sure to last long into the early hours.
Needing a win to mathematically make certain of the title but knowing a draw would practically seal the deal, Benfica left nothing to chance as an early goal by Gonçalo Ramos settled any nerves.
Rafa Silva doubled the advantage before the break and Alex Grimaldo completed the scoring from the penalty spot in the second half.
A muggy morning had given way to bright sunshine in the Portuguese capital, which further fuelled a festive atmosphere in a city largely clad in red as Benfica supporters filled the cafes and bars in anticipation of becoming Portuguese champions after three barren seasons.
Festive atmosphere in and around the Estádio da Luz. Benfica host Santa Clara almost certainly needing only a draw to become champions of Portugal 2022/23. pic.twitter.com/7j5nyHnU9n— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) May 27, 2023
The centre of the party was of course in and around Benfica’s Estádio da Luz, and the sell-out crowd played their part in setting the tone by creating a tremendous atmosphere as kick-off approached.
Despite sitting bottom of the table, Santa Clara had shown a marked improvement in recent weeks, winning two of their last three matches and scoring three goals against Braga in the other one.
However, any sense of jeopardy was quickly snuffed out as Alexander Bah’s excellent cross was headed into the net from close range by Gonçalo Ramos.
Rafa Silva scored the second from a deflected shot following a rapid counter-attack, which started when a free kick to the visitors on the edge of the Benfica box went wrong.
The result was never in doubt and from that moment much of the match resembled a training ground exercise, especially after Benfica made it 3-0 on the hour mark after being awarded a penalty.
Spanish left-back Alex Grimaldo, playing his last game in a Benfica shirt, stepped up to the spot. Some whistles rang out around the stadium following the player’s untimely announcement of his departure, but they soon turned to cheers as his shot squirmed under Santa Clara goalkeeper Gabriel Batista and nestled in the back of the net.
Grimaldo could not contain his emotion, taking off and kissing his Benfica shirt in tears.
The next half hour was simply a countdown for the party to begin.
The moment Benfica ended three barren years and were crowned champions of Portugal. pic.twitter.com/dmVxv7DrkU— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) May 27, 2023
Roger Schmidt the architect of the success
Benfica fans have endured a torrid three years as Porto, Sporting, then Porto again won the league, with the six domestic cups on offer during that time also evading the Eagles.
Ironically, the barren spell came amidst copious spending by Benfica, with the club splashing out €100 million on new players in the summer of 2020 – an unprecedented amount on transfer fees in Portugal.
This season felt like a fresh start as club legend Rui Costa began his first campaign as president and his decision to bring in German coach Roger Schmidt proved a masterstroke.
The core of the team comprised players from previous seasons, but it immediately gelled with the likes of Alex Grimaldo, António Silva, João Mário, Florentino Luís, Rafa Silva and Gonçalo Ramos especially all hitting a rich vein of form in the first half of the season, further boosted by the brilliant contribution of new Argentine signing Enzo Fernández.
Schmidt deserves praise for getting his players to adapt to his high-pressing style so quickly and hitting upon a winning tactical set-up (4231) that served him well all season.
The German also proved the antithesis to Jorge Jesus in his willingness to play young Portuguese players. The emergence of António Silva and later in the season João Neves and the confirmation of Gonçalo Ramos as a top striker were key factors in Benfica’s success.
Schmidt could hardly have made a better impression in his first season in Portugal. Will next season bring more of the same?
By Tom Kundert, at the Estádio da Luz
[1-0] Gonçalo Ramos, 7’
[2-0] Rafa Silva, 28’
[3-0] Grimaldo (pen), 60’
Benfica 3-0 Santa Clara highlights
Almost two hours after the final whistle Benfica’s players ran out again onto the Estádio da Luz pitch, announced out one by one in front of a still packed stadium for the trophy-lifting celebration. Later, the party moved on to the traditional site of title-winning celebrations for Lisbon’s clubs: the Marquês de Pombal statue in the centre of the city.
Benfica's party last night at the traditional title-winning celebration site - the Marquês de Pombal roundabout in central Lisbon - was spectacular pic.twitter.com/qkB6WOtt6N— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) May 28, 2023
Roger Schmidt, Benfica manager:
“One year ago I arrived at the airport and a journalist asked me why I had come. I said I love football and if you love football you love Benfica. It wasn’t planned, it just came out. One year later, it is true. Being part of Benfica is the best thing there is in football.
“I’m very proud of my team. We worked hard to be here at this moment and make you all happy. You are only happy when Benfica are champions and we are champions! And to be honest, we deserve to be champions. We played the best football, in the Benfica philosophy. Thank you Benfiquistas!”
João Mário, Benfica midfielder:
“It is incredible the strength that Benfica has. Next year there will be more, God-willing.”
António Silva, Benfica defender:
“It was a long season with lots of ups and downs. We had a big points advantage but then we had to battle until the last game. Fortunately, we are champions and nobody will remember the path.”
Alex Grimaldo, Benfica left-back:
“I love Benfica. Some will understand my decision, others won’t.”
Fredrick Aursnes, Benfica midfielder:
“The passion for Benfica is an amazing thing which I had never experienced before.”
Otamendi, Benfica captain:
“I want to thank everyone because this is the title I most wanted since I arrived. It was the goal of all of us. We want to be at the Marquês. I knew this was something unique, inexplicable; Rui Costa and Rui Pedro Brás had told me about it.”
Rui Costa, Benfica president:
“We are national champions. No need to ask for the 38th (Portuguese title victory) any more. I can’t end the night without thanking this whole work group, this excellent team and coaching staff. It was the commitment we showed from day one that brought us here. And you believed. We made it thanks to you. It’s a title of togetherness, of pride. If I was not speaking here, I would certainly be in the middle of you all. I love Benfica!”