Sporting 2-0 Viktoria Plzen
Sporting took a step closer to the Europa League quarter-finals tonight with a 2-0 win over Czech outfit Viktoria Plzen.
The Lisbon side were far the superior team for most of the match, with only some excellent goalkeeping by Ales Hruska preventing Sporting from wrapping up the tie in the first leg.
That said, Plzen were not far away from grabbing a precious away goal in the second half, the Czechs have an excellent record at home in Europe and with William and Coates both suspended for the second leg Sporting would do well not to count their chickens just yet.
However, it will have to be a very different game to what transpired in the Portuguese capital tonight. With Bas Dost, Doumbia and Rafael Leão all unavailable because of injury, Fredy Montero started up top, with Bryan Ruiz in support in attack.
Sporting started strongly, with Acuña whipping in two dangerous crosses early on, one of which Gelson failed to get a good connection on right in front of goal, and the chance was gone. Bryan Ruiz then forced Hruska into a sharp save with his outstretched foot, before Acuña rattled the bar with a 25-yard shot.
The breakthrough did not appear though, allowing Plzen to grow in confidence, the Czechs stringing together some nice passing moves and producing several dangerous crosses across goal, albeit without calling Sporting number one Rui Patrício into action.
Just when it seemed the interval would arrive with the game still goalless, Sporting struck with a lovely team goal in first-half stoppage time. Bryan Ruiz dinked a ball into the box towards Fábio Coentrão, the left-back producing an overhead kick which sent the ball looping to Montero, who cleverly evaded his marker, controlled the ball on his chest and calmly slotted it into the net.
Things got better for Sporting upon the restart, with the hosts doubling their lead in the 49th minute. Bruno Fernandes won the ball in midfield, drove towards the box and slipped a pass to Montero before running into space to collect the return pass. The 30-year-old striker, now finding his feet in his second spell at Sporting, had other ideas though, skipping past his marker and shooting into the corner of the net with his left foot.
With practically the whole of the second half remaining, Sporting looked set to build an unassailable lead to take to the Czech Republic, but it didn't turn out that way. A combination of an excellent display by Hruska - saving well from Bryan Ruiz, Bruno Fernandes and Mathieu - and the home side not pressing hard to increase their advantage, perhaps suffering from exhaustion or simply trying to conserve energy after their busy schedule, meant no further goals were added.
Indeed, during a 5-minute spell the visitors came close to grabbing what could have been a crucial away goal, especially when a Krmencik header whistled inches past the post.
"We're going to the Czech Republic not with the tie won, but in a better position than when it started today," said Sporting coach Jorge Jesus after the final whistle. The second leg takes place in one week's time on Thursday 16 March.
by Tom Kundert at Alvalade
Sporting: Rui Patrício, Ristovski, Coates, Mathieu, Fábio Coentrão (Rúben Ribeiro, 86), William Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes, Bryan Ruiz (Bruno César, 79), Acuña (Battaglia, 57), Gelson Martins, Montero
Viktoria Plzen: Hruska, Reznik, Hejda, Hubnik, Limbersky, Horava, Hrosovsky, Petrzela (Chory, 62), Kolar (Kovarik, 75), Zeman (Cermak, 82), Krmencik
[1-0] Montero, 45 + 1
[2-0] Montero, 49