It was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show at Alvalade tonight. After the thrilling comeback victory over Estrela da Amadora on Sunday, Sporting did just enough to beat Polish side RKS Raków in a forgettable game.
Two penalties scored early in each half by Pedro Gonçalves gave the hosts the points against opposition that played most of the game with ten men. A Milan Rundic reply gave the Poles hope of a draw, but Sporting held on for a win that keeps them second in Group D, three points behind leaders Atalanta.
For all his pre-match talk about focusing on the game at hand and strengthening Sporting’s Europa League position, Rúben Amorim logically rotated the team ahead of the huge Benfica clash in the Primeira Liga on the weekend. Centre-back Ousmane Diomande and midfielder Morten Hjulmand were on the bench, with Viktor Gyökeres out suspended. All three will start against Benfica.
It meant a rare start for Jeremiah St. Juste and Francisco Trincão.
Early red card
If Sporting were big favourites before a ball was kicked, the Portuguese side were given the perfect opportunity for a straightforward night in Lisbon when Raków’s Bogdan Racovitan hauled down St. Juste inside the box in the 12th minute. Initially the referee gave nothing, but after being invited to watch the incident on the pitch-side monitor by VAR he decided it was a penalty and red card. Pedro Gonçalves duly converted the spot kick.
Despite the buffer of an early lead and their numerical advantage in terms of personnel, the Lions did not press home their advantage.
Sloppy passing from the home team facilitated the Polish team’s defensive efforts. A zippy run from Edwards followed by a shot from an impossibly tight angle when a cut-back would have been the better option, and a scooped effort by the Englishman on the stroke of half time touched over the bar by goalkeeper Vladan Kovacevic were the only chances of note up until the break.
The second half started like the first, with the referee ignoring a penalty shout, then pointing to the spot after a VAR intervention and a look at the monitor, penalising Rundic’s handball from an Edwards cross.
Pedro Gonçalves stepped up again and hit his penalty in exactly the same spot with the same result. 2-0 Sporting.
Short night’s work for quintet
Amorim now had the luxury of resting some key players with Sunday’s Lisbon derby in mind. Pote, Inácio, Esgaio, St. Juste and Edwards were all take off early. Among the substitutes entering the fray, special mention to 21-year-old forward Tiago Ferreira who made his debut for Sporting’s senior team.
Against all expectations Raków pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Rundic made up for his penalty mistake by finishing from close range, following up on an Adán save after a quick break.
The goal invigorated the Polish side who began to push forward with more conviction, albeit without creating any clear openings.
Daniel Bragança twice came close to restoring Sporting’s two-goal advantage but there was no further scoring in a match that will not live long in the memory.
By Tom Kundert at Alvalade
Sporting XI: Adán, Ricardo Esgaio (Iván Fresneda, 55’), Sebastián Coates, Jeremiah St. Juste (Ousmande Diomande, 69’), Gonçalo Inácio (Matheus Reis, 54’), Nuno Santos, Daniel Bragança, Marcus Edwards (Tiago Ferreira, 69’), Francisco Trincão, Paulinho, Pedro Gonçalves (Morten Hjulmand, 54’)
[1-0] Pedro Gonçalves (pen), 13’
[2-0] Pedro Gonçalves, (pen), 51’
[2-1] Milan Rundic, 70’