Porto defeat Antwerp 2-0 in the Champions League

Porto defeated Antwerp 2-0 in a largely uneventful evening at Estádio do Dragão.

Both teams had chances before Evanilson opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 32nd minute.

Any hopes Antwerp had of fighting back were severely dented seven minutes after the restart when Jurgen Ekkelenkamp was sent off.

Evanilson and Pepê Aquino missed opportunities to kill the game off which nearly came back to haunt the Dragons, Arbnor Muja missing a fabulous chance to equalise in the 89th minute.

Pepe finally sealed the deal in added time, the 40-year-old getting on the end of Francisco Conceição’s cross and heading home from close range.

The victory sees Porto join Barcelona at the top of Group H, both clubs level on nine points.

Porto edge ahead

The visitors fashioned the first chance of the match after a poor pass from Alan Varela, George Ilenikhena releasing Michel-Ange Balikwisha who dragged his shot wide.

Porto were struggling to produce any combination play with their high press looking more likely to create goal scoring opportunities.

It was from one such opportunity they went close in the 15th minute, Senne Lammens’ clearance charged down by Mehdi Taremi which resulted in Evanilson firing wide.

Taremi couldn’t generate enough power on Zaidu Sanusi’s cross, but the Dragons’ persistence paid off in the 31st minute when they were awarded a penalty.

Evanilson’ excellent pass sent Pepê through, his shot saved before Gyrano Kerk clumsily collided into the back of Stephen Eustáquio. Pepe took the ball off Varela and handed it to Evanilson, the striker stepping up and sending Lammens the wrong way.

The first half ended with the lively André Franco sending Taremi through, the Iranian firing into the side netting.

Mark van Bommel made a change at the break with Jelle Bataille replacing Ritchie De Laet at right-back.

Ekkelenkamp sent off

The visitors were dealt a big blow in the 52nd minute when Jurgen Ekkelenkamp was sent off. Initially booked for a sliding challenge on Sanusi, referee Maurizio Mariani watched replays on the touchline before upgrading the yellow to a red card.

David Carmo was booked after being turned by George Ilenikhena, the sizeable travelling contingent screaming for Mariani to produce a straight red card for being the last man.

Both managers went to their bench in the 69th minute when Sérgio Conceição replaced Taremi with Francisco Conceição, van Bommel bringing on Kobe Corbanie and Arbnor Muja for Owen Wijndal and Balikwisha.

The Dutch manager emptied his bench not long after, Kerk and Ilenikhena making way for Chidera Ejuke and Vincent Janssen. 

Evanilson and Franco couldn’t steer shots on target, Antwerp reminding them of the danger lurking when a fine move ended with Muja’s shot being blocked.

Conceição made a triple switch in the 83rd minute when he introduced Jorge Sánchez, Danny Namaso and Fran Navarro for Sanusi, Franco and Evanilson.

Late drama

The game looked to be heading towards a predictable conclusion before both teams missed glorious opportunities within 60 seconds.

Pepê fired over the bar before Lammens launched a long ball that evaded Porto’s defence, Muja going through on goal and narrowly missing the chance to snatch a dramatic equaliser.

There was time for Porto to finally end the contest in added time when Conceição, who had been looking dangerous since entering the fray, sent a cross into the box where Pepe headed home from close range. 

Dragons failing to fire but room for improvement

It was a deserved ending for Pepe who has four games under his belt after missing five weeks of action. The 40-year-old will surely come into contention for Roberto Martínez's next Portugal squad.

It would have been a different headline had Arbnor Muja taken his chance in the 89th minute, another reminder of the fine margins in football.

The Dragons are clearly missing Otávio’s creativity and scoring goals is an issue. Regardless, they remain on track to be contesting four competitions in 2024.

Mehdi Taremi's goals and assists are well below the incredible output we have seen during three previous three seasons. Evanilson has stepped up with five goals in his last three matches, Porto very much a work in progress.

The three points were vital after Shakhtar Donetsk’s shock 1-0 victory against Barcelona. The win takes the Dragons level with the Catalan club, Shakhtar three points back and Antwerp no hope.

Conceição and his side now prepare for the tricky trip to Guimarães. Their Champions League campaign continues in Barcelona, defeat in Spain increasing the possibility of a shootout against Shakhtar to stay alive.

By Matthew Marshall