Portuguese coaches and players scattered all around Europe enjoyed an almost universally positive week in the Champions League.
Porto beat Leipzig to move up to 2nd in Group G, Sporting put in a fine display and were unlucky to come away with just a draw against Juventus, and even Benfica’s defeat in England against Manchester United had plus points.
On an individual basis, Paulo Fonseca, José Mourinho and Leonardo Jardim guided their teams to excellent results, Rony Lopes, Raphael Guerreiro and Cristiano Ronaldo hit the net, while Ricardo Quaresma and João Moutinho made key contributions for their respective teams.
FC Porto made light of the loss of in-form forward Moussa Marega early in their decisive match against RB Leipzig. Sparsely used midfielder André André replaced the Malian and went on to produce an excellent performance in a 3-1 win for the Dragons.
Sérgio Conceição’s team were remarkably clinical in their two games against the Germans, registering 5 attempts on target in the 180 minutes which resulted in… 5 goals! Four of those goals were from set-pieces, and it was from a corner that Mexican midfielder Héctor Herrera put Porto into the lead after 12 minutes last night. Leipzig hit back as second-half substitute Timo Werner needed just a couple of minutes on the pitch to score an emphatic equaliser. But Porto reacted well to the setback, going on to win thanks to goals from Danilo (again from a set-piece, heading in a free kick) and Maxi Pereira.
Sporting followed up their encouraging displays against Barcelona at home and Juventus in Turin with an even better one against the Italians in Lisbon on Tuesday night. The Portuguese team were good value for their half-time lead, thanks to a Bruno César goal, and had several opportunities to make it 2-0 thanks to some forceful counter-attacking football. Juventus, twice losing finalists in the last three years, will be grateful to have escaped the Portuguese capital without defeat after a deft Higuaín strike late on earned them a draw.
Benfica were predictably beaten by Manchester United at Old Trafford, although with a bit of luck they could have caused more problems for José Mourinho’s team, having a clear penalty ignored by the referee when the game was still goalless, forcing the home goalkeeper De Gea into serious action and hitting the bar through Jiménez. Portuguese youngsters Rúben Dias and Diogo Gonçalves were both in the starting line-up and impressed, prompting coach Rui Vitória to say post-match: “It’s extremely satisfying when we have young players at this level, on a stage like this.”
No stopping Fonseca, Lopes sends message to Fernando Santos
Elsewhere, coach Paulo Fonseca added to his burgeoning reputation, guiding his Shakhtar Donetsk team to a second successive win over Feyenoord, coming from behind to beat the Dutch champions 3-1 in Ukraine.
“Even when we conceded I always believed we would get the three points,” said Fonseca after the match. “When the draw was made I saw a lot of people say we wouldn’t even make it to the Europa League. Well, the Europa League is guaranteed with two matches left, after three wins in four Champions League games.” Despite having Manchester City and Napoli in the same group, Shakhtar are well placed to make it to the knockout phase, requiring one point from their two matches against those teams to do so.
Rony Lopes was stunned to be left out of Portugal’s squad for this summer’s U21 European Championship, but the Brazilian-born attacking midfielder has shrugged off the disappointment and is producing his most sustained spell of strong form of his career. A superb strike in Istanbul yesterday, taking advantage of a João Moutinho assist, gave Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco the lead against Besiktas. The home team equalised from a penalty won by Ricardo Quaresma.
Real Madrid were well beaten by Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 in London, but Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored Real’s goal – meaning he’s found the net in all four Champions League matches this season – insisted the Spanish giants were not in crisis and jumped to the defence of coach Zinedine Zidane. “We are all behind Zidane. We’re not in a good spell, but it’s how you finish (the season) that matters.”
Also in Group H, Borussia Dortmund were surprisingly held for the second match running by Cypriot side APOEL. Yesterday’s game in Germany saw the return to Champions League action for Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro, who marked the occasion by scoring the Bundesliga team’s goal in a 1-1 draw.
by Tom Kundert