It was a disappointing week for Portugal’s three Champions League participants, with Porto, Sporting and Benfica all losing, albeit by a single goal against strong opposition.

Sporting fans must be getting tired of “moral victories”. The Lions were denied a positive result against one of Europe’s top teams yet again as a late goal by Mario Mandzukic completed a Juventus comeback in Turin.

Sérgio Conceição and Rui Vitória selected young goalkeepers with no Champions League experience for Porto and Benfica respectively, and while both Mile Svilar and José Sá acquitted themselves well for the most part, each made a mistake that cost a goal.

 

Groundhog Day

Jorge Jesus received much criticism for his Champions League record at Benfica, and his chances of improving it at Sporting have been sparse given the unfavourable draws the Lions have been dealt the last two years.

Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund stood in Sporting’s way last season, and this year the task was just as difficult with the Lisbon club placed in a group containing Barcelona and Juventus.

That Sporting have lost 6 games against these giants (Real Madrid x2, Dortmund x2, Barça and Juve) is not hugely surprising. However, each and every one of the defeats has been by a single goal and it is difficult to deny that with a little bit more luck Jesus’ side could have obtained different results.

The best performance in this half dozen toughest of tests came at the Santiago Bernabeu last season, where Sporting were leading after largely outplaying the European Champions until the dying minutes, until Cristiano Ronaldo and Álvaro Morata cruelly turned it around.

Yesterday at the Allianz Stadium, Sporting again took the lead, thanks to an Alex Sandro own goal, only for Miralem Pjanic to equalise for Juventus with a terrific free kick. Sporting appeared to be holding on relatively comfortably, until Mandzukic’s late intervention brought on a familiar sinking feeling.

 

Casillas dropped

In the pre-match press conference before Porto took on RB Leipzig in Germany, coach Sérgio Conceição was asked if he would surprise onlookers again with his team selection, as he had done to good effect in the previous Champions League match against Monaco, with the inclusion of Sérgio Oliveira.

“I’m not paid to pull off surprises, I’m paid to select the best team possible,” was his response.

He subsequently pulled off an even bigger surprise as Iker Casillas was relegated to the bench and José Sá started between the sticks for Porto. Just eight minutes were on the clock when Sá made a hash of a regulation save, spilling the ball and allowing Willi Orban to open the scoring for the Germans.

Porto equalised soon afterwards through the rejuvenated Vincent Aboubakar, and truth be told José Sá was solid for the rest of the match. It was through no fault of his that Porto eventually went down 3-2, the closeness of the scoreline masking a below-par performance by the Dragons who were always second best.

Would it have been different if Casillas had started? We will never know, but Conceição – who insisted it was “a technical decision, and if I had to choose the starting XI again I would choose the exact same players” – has had to endure a torrent of criticism for the decision. Curiously, many of those criticising him are the exact same analysts who lavished him with praise for his surprise selection in the previous Champions League match.

 

Mile Svilar sets record

While events in Leipzig may have signalled the beginning of the end of a great goalkeeping career, back in Lisbon, an 18-year-old custodian took to the pitch for his first high-profile match.

Belgian teenager Miles Svilar became the youngest ever goalkeeper to start a Champions League game, as he lined up for Benfica against Manchester United in the Portuguese capital.

After several rushes from his line to clear impending danger and some sharp saves, things were going well for Svilar, and you got the impression the local press were preparing their “Heir to Preud’homme!” headlines, alluding to the young ‘keeper’s compatriot who shined so brilliantly for the club in the 90s. Not least because Benfica were inexistent as an attacking force, seemingly content to soak up pressure or simply unable to mount any real threat against the English giants.

Alas, the fairy-tale start to Svilar’s career on the big stage did not materialise as he badly misjudged the flight of a Marcus Rashford free kick and/or his own position, taking a step backwards as he caught the ball, unfortunately for him and for Benfica, inside the net for the only goal of the game.

Upon the final whistle a visibly upset Svilar mouthed an apology to the fans, while holding up his hands, and was consoled by his compatriot Romelu Lukaku and others.

“This is the sort of goal only a great goalkeeper will concede, a goalkeeper who is not afraid to come off his line,” offered Mourinho after the match. “This kid’s a beast, a phenomenon. The Benfica president better prepare a big briefcase because they’re going to pay a lot of money for him.”

Svilar himself insists the mistake will not halt his progress. “I should have done better on the goal but there’s nothing I can do about it now and I’m not going to let it affect me,” he said. “It’s part of my development. I’m ready to continue and I hope to do better in the future.”

That immediate future will be playing for Benfica against Desportivo das Aves on Sunday, with Benfica coach Rui Vitória emphatically saying he will retain his starting spot.

By Tom Kundert

 

Comments (18)

  1. Val

Man Sporting cant buy a break. Juve does not win that game if Fabio C wasn't made of paper. His (apparently) 4 foot high replacement isn't big enough or in the correct position to stop Mandzucic who moves as quickly and fluidly as a garbage truck...

Man Sporting cant buy a break. Juve does not win that game if Fabio C wasn't made of paper. His (apparently) 4 foot high replacement isn't big enough or in the correct position to stop Mandzucic who moves as quickly and fluidly as a garbage truck btw. Zbortings last games in Champions league:

Lost 2-1 to Juventus
Lost 1-0 to Barcalona.
Lost 1-0 to Legia
Lost 2-1 to Madrid
Lost 2-1 to Dortmund

That is frustrating as heck. Unfortunately all the good play means little when you lose. Sporting are close, they just need a little more quality in certain positions. Good news is Bruno Fernandes put in another amazing performance. Kid is making a very strong case to go to Russia and to start for Portugal in the near future.

Benfica did very little despite the scoreline. Goalie made a mistake, so what.

Really hope Jose Sa doesn't fade away because of this. The same trolls we get on every Selecao article screaming about the end of the world also do the same garbage with their club teams. Glad Conceicao is the Porto coach and not some spineless baby, Conceicao wont listen, which in this case is a good thing.

Braga will get is a win this week in Europe...hopefully.

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  1. Val    Val

When I said Goalie made a mistake, so what. I meant he is young and young players make mistakes. Champions league vs Man United, kid should be proud at even playing and only allowing 1 goal. Remarkable really.

Also on Jose Sa, another talent...

When I said Goalie made a mistake, so what. I meant he is young and young players make mistakes. Champions league vs Man United, kid should be proud at even playing and only allowing 1 goal. Remarkable really.

Also on Jose Sa, another talent that shouldn't let this game take him down.

Re-reading my comments maybe sounded harsh when it wasn't meant in that way.

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  1. Eddie

While my team Sporting didn't get the result that we wanted, I am proud of our performance. The whole team played awesome and totally rose to the challenge EXCEPT Jonathon Silva lol smh. I agree with Val, if Fabio Coentrao had stayed on and he...

While my team Sporting didn't get the result that we wanted, I am proud of our performance. The whole team played awesome and totally rose to the challenge EXCEPT Jonathon Silva lol smh. I agree with Val, if Fabio Coentrao had stayed on and he was marking Mandzukic in that play Fabio would have defended well and stopped that play.

Juve actually got a break there, because prior to that while Fabio was still on the pitch Sporting were the better team and actually looked like we could have scored the winner. We were attacking Juve, had the ball, making more plays and Juve looked helpless. At that point I was sure we could get the draw maybe even win it. Juve were worried, you could tell and they are counting their blessings for coming away with that win.

Our whole team played awesome and Sporting really is a fantastic team right now, this squad this season is a great team. Bruno Fernandes William Carvalho Battaglia, Gelson, Piccini, Mattheu, Coates Patricio and Fabio Coentrao all were awesome. Acuna put in a decent shift as well, he's a very hard worker which is great and has a tremendous left foot great deliveries, I just would like to see him be more creative attacking wise. I think if Iuri or Podence continue working maybe they can steal that spot eventually cause they have more creative dribbling attacking ability. But Acuna makes up for it with his work ethic and his deliveries are spot on so can't complain much.

Fabio Coentrao played a great game again, he is one of the best left backs in the world still in terms of defending. He's lost some of his attacking energy and pace but he's still great skill wise and defensively. Its a pity he had to come off. I think he actually could have played on in the end he looked frustrated to be being subbed off, but i know Jorge Jesus was just being really careful and wants to keep him fit for next games.

There was also a huge penalty shout for Sporting when ref called foul on Coates when actually he just jumped for the ball and the Juve defender handled the ball. No big deal but what I'm saying is if we get our luck we can beat Juventus.

Had Doumbia been fully fit too he could have probably raced on to that brilliant trivela cross by Bruno Fernandes in the last couple minutes of the game, literally inches away from Doumbia, if he dived at it would have been sure goal.

Looking at the way we've played in all our Champions League games this season thus far we have definitely given a good account of ourselves. We are not out of it yet, we still have the ability to beat Juve in the Alvalade and also Olympiacos again so its still possible to progress.

Proud of the way Sporting is playing and the team that we have forca Sporting!

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  1. Val    Eddie

Eddie, great post.

I forgot about Doumbia right at the end there.

There is a great shot of Buffon with his hands reaching into the net to get the ball but then the ball doesn't go in and he puts his hands to the sides of his head, shocked it...

Eddie, great post.

I forgot about Doumbia right at the end there.

There is a great shot of Buffon with his hands reaching into the net to get the ball but then the ball doesn't go in and he puts his hands to the sides of his head, shocked it didn't go in. LOL! Gigi is awesome like that but Doumbia should have tied the game.

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  1. Eddie    Val

Thanks Val great post yourself too.

Haha yeah I remember that Buffon reaction lol that was priceless. Thats to tell you how close it was. I know Doumbia was injured last 2 weeks or something but I still can't believe he didn't reach that ball.

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  1. Andre/UK

Well this week's results for Portuguese clubs in Europe (both teams lost in the EL tonight as well), only confirms more what is becoming pretty clearly the case. That our liga and the strength of our best clubs has been decreasing in relation to...

Well this week's results for Portuguese clubs in Europe (both teams lost in the EL tonight as well), only confirms more what is becoming pretty clearly the case. That our liga and the strength of our best clubs has been decreasing in relation to the bigger leagues and richer clubs of Europe. Just go look at the results and achievements of Portuguese clubs in Europe over the last 5 years or so, and this trend is very apparent. The gulf in quality of squads between the richer clubs of Europe and our best clubs is only increasing. The reason for this is very simple: the disappointing and sad reality that club football is more and more about $$$$$ every season that passes. It's becoming more and more a case of only the clubs that can spend huge fees on players can really challenge for the Champions League, for example. And the financial situation of the Portuguese clubs only seems to be getting worse in relation to the rich clubs of Europe.

I will not be the least bit surprised if all three of our big 3 crash out at the group stage of the CL this season. Benfica are almost certainly out already, and while Porto and Sporting both still have a fighting chance, they also have a lot of work to do and it's touch and go if they make it or not (Porto perhaps but I don't see Sporting making it). My team Benfica's overall squad strength has diminished consistently every season since 2013/14 and the fantastic season we had that year (and you might even argue it's diminished every season since 2010 and the fantastic squad we had back then). Porto may have started this season quite well so far, but I still think it's the weakest Porto squad in many years. Much is made in this article and in the comments of Sporting being "unlucky" but the fact of the matter is that Sporting have lost 7 out of their last 9 CL matches, which is an awful record I'm sorry to say. It doesn't matter that they lost by one goal or whatever, they lost period. We just can't compete financially with the rich clubs of Europe (and i say "rich" not "big", because there's no way the likes of Chelsea, Man City or PSG are bigger clubs than our top 2). Until this situation changes, this will continue to be the case, because the rich clubs simply buy up all the most talented players in the world, including the best players of Portuguese clubs! This is why European club football and it's increasing lack of competitiveness is becoming a bit of a turn off lately. And also why international football is more interesting, as it's much more of an even playing field.

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  1. Nick J

For me Benfica are missing a number 10. Without a goal threat the ball just keeps coming back at midfield/defence. They didn't play too badly and Utd got lucky with their goal but Benfica passed/moved well until the final third when United just...

For me Benfica are missing a number 10. Without a goal threat the ball just keeps coming back at midfield/defence. They didn't play too badly and Utd got lucky with their goal but Benfica passed/moved well until the final third when United just closed the door.
How about a move for Sneijder from Nice in January?


As for Porto - What a game. Breathless match with RB’s high press causing all kinds of problems. Porto couldnt keep the ball and even resorted to long balls over the top to Aboubakar who was heavily marked. Danilo was overrun in midfield, Marega anonymous and Oliver Torres – whats going on with him? Brahimi regularly had to beat 3 players to be able to get anywhere but respect to Leipzig as its very hard to play at that pace and Leipzig forced the errors/movements for their goals. Ok so Sa spilled for the first and the midfield fell asleep for the second and third but Porto weren’t ever in control. Not sure Conceição got it totally right but the lack of intensity from certain players killed the team. Everyone has to be at the same level for it to work in games like this. On the plus side most worked hard in a battling performance and kept pushing for an equaliser plus the Mister was brave enough to try and change it in the second half.
“Offensive avalanche” was the description used about Leipzig and that’s prob right.
The match at Besiktas will be key and hopefully they will have already qualified by then so wont be bothered about it! I said at the start it was a tough group and there would be no shame in ending up in the Europa League and it still looks that way

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  1. Nick J    Nick J

and Porto! Porto! Porto!

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  1. jon/usa

Well, Benfica were by no means outmatched by an individually superior Manchester United side, but this was largely due to the fact that both Vitoria and Mourinho wanted to keep this tight and balanced. United really didn't create much from open...

Well, Benfica were by no means outmatched by an individually superior Manchester United side, but this was largely due to the fact that both Vitoria and Mourinho wanted to keep this tight and balanced. United really didn't create much from open play, so it's a shame that we were defeated by such a preventable goal. With regards to Svilar, I think he actually didn't look all that bad. The frango he gave up certainly isn't something you see everyday, but apart from that mistake, he looked pretty confident -- certainly more composed than Varela. Benching him this Sunday in favor of Julio Cesar could destroy his confidence, so I actually wouldn't mind seeing him get the start against Aves.

The only positive I can take from this match was Ruben Dias' performance. While he's definitely still far from the finished article, he proved that he is good enough to compete with the very best. I was very impressed with how well he coped with the threat of Lukaku -- he had the Belgian striker in his pocket for the majority of the match. The rest of the team was quite poor. Douglas was a nightmare defensively, Pizzi is still far from his best, Goncalves is still a bit too raw for this level, and Augusto offered nothing in an attacking sense.

We're all but out of the Champions league, so I would have no problem if Rui Vitoria decided to place 100% of his attention on the league, a competition that is still far from over.

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  1. Chris

Disappointing result for Portuguese teams, really. But I have a different take on things than maybe most here.

If we analyze things, each club is different. Benfica is where they are because the Prez is a money hungry goombah who used to be...

Disappointing result for Portuguese teams, really. But I have a different take on things than maybe most here.

If we analyze things, each club is different. Benfica is where they are because the Prez is a money hungry goombah who used to be good at building teams, but all he cares about now is selling and making money. Sporting very unwisely got rid of an excellent manager in Marco Silva at a discount price to pay for the biggest fraud in Portuguese coaching at an insane pay grade. Porto has had a blend of both. Selling off of too many quality players, and bad selections for managers (Julen Lopestegui and Nuno ES).

I also believe that the other big factor is how far up the rest of the league has come in quality. If we are honest, the German league is a joke. Gone are the days when Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 were title contenders. Bayern are title champions 5 seasons in a row, and only RB Leipzig are a minor threat to them and that's because the sponsor has funneled money into the club.

Spain is also a bit of a joke. Barca and Real are the giants, Atletico is no longer a contender, and the other clubs are 2-3 levels below. France is PSG and oil money. The English league is very competitive and you feel anything can happen in any given name. In this way, I feel the Portuguese and English leagues are a bit similar.

Honestly, FIFA, UEFA and FIFA fairplay are a joke. As long as private interests are allowed to sink their teeth into individual clubs and the wealth inequality grows, this nonsense will continue. This is not even to mention the corruption that exists within officiating at the Champions League level to protect the already rich clubs. The official in the Sporting vs Barca game was absolutely disgusting. So blatant with the calls favouring Barca.

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  1. Nick J    Chris

The English league is very competitive and you feel anything can happen in any given name

A complete myth. One of Chelsea, Man City or Man Utd will win the league as they have done for the past 11 years or so.
Regarding your criticism of...

The English league is very competitive and you feel anything can happen in any given name

A complete myth. One of Chelsea, Man City or Man Utd will win the league as they have done for the past 11 years or so.
Regarding your criticism of Spain/Germany you might want to look at their current league tables...

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  1. Chris    Nick J

You don't think the English league is competitive?

So I guess Manchester United losing to Huddersfield over the weekend is of little value, right? How about when Chelsea lost to Burnley at the beginning of this season? Or the fact that...

You don't think the English league is competitive?

So I guess Manchester United losing to Huddersfield over the weekend is of little value, right? How about when Chelsea lost to Burnley at the beginning of this season? Or the fact that Liverpool, one of the two most winningest clubs in England, got shellacked by Tottenham on Sunday? What about the fact that there have been 4 different Champions in the Premier League in the last 5 years?

With respect to Germany, you point out the current table but completely fail to address this fact:

Bundesliga Champions: Bayern Munich (2012-13), Bayern Munich (2013-14), Bayern Munich (2014-15), Bayern Munich (2015-16), Bayern Munich (2016-17).

So..... yeah, about that.

My point was simply that the league as a whole offers more competition to the bigger teams in England and Portugal. In Portugal, this was not the case a few years ago, but these last 3 seasons, you see the Chaves, Rio Ave's, Maritimo's of the league really fight hard and get decent results against the Big 3.

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  1. Nick J    Chris

Every league has surprise results. Barcelona usually lose to one of the smaller clubs once per season as do Madrid. So what? You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument but since Arsenal won it –Leicester fluke aside – its been...

Every league has surprise results. Barcelona usually lose to one of the smaller clubs once per season as do Madrid. So what? You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument but since Arsenal won it –Leicester fluke aside – its been the same 3 teams winning it and it’ll be these same 3 teams for the foreseeable future.
And Liverpool havent won the league in 26 years!

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  1. Chris    Nick J

"You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument".....proceeds to throw away valid point. Who is trying to serve their own argument dude? And why no comment on the Bundesliga? By the way, how is one team being better than everyone...

"You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument".....proceeds to throw away valid point. Who is trying to serve their own argument dude? And why no comment on the Bundesliga? By the way, how is one team being better than everyone else in the league a fluke? Did you watch Leicester that year? They beat everyone, small teams, big teams, it was hardly a fluke. They earned it. What a callous, ridiculous statement.

You made my point for me. Barca and Madrid may lose to one small team once per year. Exactly, which is what I said. The Spanish league is so uncompetitive it's a joke. In the UK, there is a real chance AS WE JUST SAW, that a giant like Man U can lose on any given weekend to HUDDERSFIELD.

The saddest thing in all this, is that if your prior comments are to be believed, you're a Porto supporter. God help us all.

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  1. Nick J    Chris

You said the German league is a joke so I pointed out that the table at the moment isn’t Bayern ahead by the usual 10 points or whatever so its more competitive this season.
You then said Spain was a bit of a joke using Spurs beating Liverpool...

You said the German league is a joke so I pointed out that the table at the moment isn’t Bayern ahead by the usual 10 points or whatever so its more competitive this season.
You then said Spain was a bit of a joke using Spurs beating Liverpool and Man Utd losing to Huddersfield as an example of how competitive the English league is and Spain isn’t. I pointed out that smaller teams beat Barca/Madrid like Huddersfield/Man Utd.
Regarding Spurs beating Liverpool, Ateltico/Valencia/Sevilla beat each other and Atletico/Valencia do well against Barca/Madrid so there is competition between teams on a game to game basis and the bigger teams can lose against each other.
Regarding the league winners yes Bayern have won the German league but the other teams fighting for Europe has been different teams.
If Leicesetr wasn’t a fluke then why have they dropped like a stone since and when should we expect them to win it again?
These things happen ever now and then like Lille, Verona, Wolfsburg, Deportivo….

No need to repeat my other points but you might need to calm down.
And me liking Porto has nothing to do with anything!

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  1. Nick J    Chris

I'm not trying to cause an argument or ocme over as an idiot so apologies if you are offended by the tone of my posts.
My overall point is that there is so much hype around the Premier League things get distorted and the "most competitive league...

I'm not trying to cause an argument or ocme over as an idiot so apologies if you are offended by the tone of my posts.
My overall point is that there is so much hype around the Premier League things get distorted and the "most competitive league in the world" narrative isn't true, its just marketing.
I'll take Liga Nos any day of the week.

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  1. Chris    Nick J

I'm not offended at all man, there is no need to apologize, although I appreciate the gesture. Argument and debate is good, healthy. We'll have to agree to disagree. I just don't like arguing with a fellow supporter. I'd rather save my energy...

I'm not offended at all man, there is no need to apologize, although I appreciate the gesture. Argument and debate is good, healthy. We'll have to agree to disagree. I just don't like arguing with a fellow supporter. I'd rather save my energy for when the Benfica fans come on here and try to pretend they don't have the Portuguese league officials in their pocket.

I do agree that the EPL is overhyped, but I do think it is most competitive league in Europe (not world). I do think there is a Brit compulsion to name anything they do as "best in the world", and the EPL is not the best. Most competitive yes, best no. But the Brit media tends to do this all the time. Just watch a Formula 1 race and see how the Lewis Hamilton hype train goes on. Forget the fact that the guy drives a car that is light years better than the competition.

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  1. Nick J    Chris

I don't like arguing with a fellow Porto fan that’s just too depressing.
I also dont want to start commenting on who gets what decision from which ref either!

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