Royal Antwerp 1-4 FC Porto
It was a classic game of two halves in Champions League group H tonight. Belgian champions Antwerp went into the break leading, Alhassan Yusuf’s smart finish punishing a lethargic Porto side.
But the Portuguese team came roaring out in the second half, Evanilson scoring 45 seconds after the restart.
The Brazilian would go on to hit a hat-trick with Stephen Eustáquio also finding the net after a sensational team move to make it two wins from three for the Dragons to leave them well placed for qualification for the knockout phase.
Neither side created much in the first half. Wenderson Galeno was Porto’s most threatening player, setting up a chance for Taremi and shooting wide from a promising position.
The Belgians were giving as good as they got though in front of a raucous crowd. Arbnor Muja shot over the bar and in the 36th minute the hosts took the lead. Alan Varela carelessly gave the ball away near his own box, the ball eventually falling to Yusuf to fire in a crisp first-time shot from 15 yards that gave Diogo Costa no chance.
Antwerp continued to push forward with Muja again threatening just before the break.
Porto injury a blessing in disguise
Moments before, however, there was a significant moment in the match as Porto defender Wendell had to be substituted, paving the way for Evanilson to enter the fray. The powerful 24-year-old striker has been badly hampered by injuries himself this season, but he would have a night to remember.
Whatever coach Sérgio Conceição said to his players during the break had the desired effect as Porto came out a transformed team in the second half, equalising less than a minute after the referee had blown to restart the action.
With Evanilson on the pitch Mehdi Taremi dropped deeper where he could display his ability to be a creative force. He was soon skilfully beating his man and engineering space for himself to play a perfect square pass into the path of Evanilson just inside the box, whose low hard shot skidded into the corner of Jean Butez’s goal with the aid of a deflection.
FC Porto should be a case study in Portugal. So often the Dragons play their best football in Europe, in contrast to Benfica & Sporting who only sporadically transfer their best domestic displays to the international arena. It was only Antwerp but Porto blew them away 2nd half.— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) October 25, 2023
Suddenly Porto were all over the home side, Alan Varela almost making up for his earlier mistake as he forced Butez into an excellent save.
It was only a temporary reprieve as Porto took the lead through a magnificent team goal. An 11-pass move saw the ball patiently worked from one area to the other, with Eustáquio producing a composed finished after a brilliant João Mário assist.
Antwerp almost grabbed an equaliser shortly after the hour mark as veteran defender Toby Alderweireld headed against the bar from a corner.
But Porto were looking dangerous every time they attacked, Pepê’s goal-bound shot only kept out by a desperate defensive block.
The game was made safe in the 67th minute after another fine move but this time the goal was all about the finish, Evanilson smashing an unstoppable first-time shot into the net from 18 yards out.
To their credit the hosts never gave up, two long-range efforts from Owen Wijndal and Vincent Janssen not far away.
Porto put the cherry on the cake in the 83rd minute as Evanilson produced another fine finish, lobbing over Butez after being found by a long accurate pass from his strike partner Taremi.
“At half time I was very annoyed,” said Porto coach Sérgio Conceição post-match. “We weren’t doing what we had planned. We had to rectify things, be more aggressive, press better. When we do that we are a team in our image, and when we play like this [in the second half] it makes me pleased.”
By Tom Kundert