In Part 4 of PortuGOAL’s look at the Campeonato de Portugal Prio season review, we’re heading into Série D territory. And that means taking a trip to the beautiful national capital, Lisbon, and its surrounds. There is also the southern Leiria region (home of this season’s Taça de Portugal giant slayers, Caldas) and the Atlantic island chain of the Azores.

Despite being some 950 miles (1,446 km) from Lisbon, the Azores have two clubs present in Série D - Praiense and Lusitânia - with another two in Série E (more on that next week). It ensures each club a good supply of air miles throughout the season but can also prove a logistical nightmare for some as we’ll see later in this article.

Unlike last week’s piece on Série C where UD Leiria had the division all but sewn up (they have since confirmed top spot in the division), Série D is still looking for an outright winner. There is also the small matter of a second-placed club to compete for a spot in the promotional play-offs to sort out, not to mention who will be in the dreaded bottom six come the end of the season. With four games of the season left, there is all to play for…

 

Série D - The Top

Mafra (60 points)

A Segunda Liga side as recently as two seasons ago, Mafra have enjoyed a fantastic 2017-18 campaign under the tutelage of a man who must surely rank as one of the youngest coaches in Portuguese senior football at present. Luís Freire is a mere 32 years old but already in his second season as coach having been with Pêro Pinheiro last season and guiding them to the championship in the Pró-Nacional AF Lisboa. Ironically, it meant promotion to Série D but Mafra were able to tempt the young coach away and it’s proven to be a fantastic move for both Freire and Mafra.

Located a stone’s throw north of Lisbon, and home of the Palácio Nacional de Mafra, this town is becoming accustomed to a successful football team. Despite only a single season in the second tier, the club is on its way back and currently has a comfortable 7-point gap over its nearest rival, Vilafranquense, with the finish line now clearly in sight. The club has been in the top two positions since the end of September and is unbeaten since a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sacavenense on 7th January. Indeed, the club is unbeaten all season at its Campo Dr. Mário Silveira ground having moved back there at the start of last season from the newer and larger Municipal de Mafra which met Segunda Liga criteria.

The club may have been eliminated in just the 2nd round of the Taça de Portugal but it certainly hasn’t done them any harm in the long run and the sum of two league losses and 18 wins from 26 games is impressive. They have also conceded a joint division best of 18 goals in the league, scoring a healthy 53 in return.

Responsible for 15 of those goals scored is 29-year-old wide man, Bruninho. His second season with the club, he has seen service in the Primeira Liga with both Vitória Setúbal and Penafiel but has found a home at the Campo Dr. Mário Silveira and could well be playing Segunda Liga football again next season. Another wide man in Leandro Borges has also weighed in with 8 league goals since his summer arrival from Fafe.

At the other end of the pitch, former Benfica junior, João Godinho, has been an ever-present in the league with 26 starts. The goalkeeper is in his 6th season with the club and, at 33 years of age, is one of the more experienced in the squad. There is also 28-year-old right-back, Hugo Ventosa, who has started 24 league games and contributed 5 goals having signed from Operário in the summer.

In the midfield, Lucas Morelatto (23) is in his second season with the club and has added 4 league goals from 25 starts. The young Brazilian has seen service with Palmeiras at junior level in his homeland before a move to Portugal in 2015 with Olhanense. His scoring record this season is even more impressive when you take into account that he fills the holding role.

Mafra will go into the last four games full of belief that they can maintain the status quo at the top. The next three fixtures are against relegation contenders: Guadalupe (already down), Corruchense and Sintrense, while the final day of the season sees them host 4th place, Sacavenense. This squad of players will hope to have top spot wrapped up by the visit of the latter though and they will surely prove a worthy adversary for any other club who does make the play-offs this season.

 

The Chasing Pack

With so few points left to play for before the regular CPP draws to its conclusion, it’s realistic to assume that second place will be taken by one of two sides in Série D. Sacavenense sit in 4th position with 44 points which would make it difficult for them to overhaul the current 2nd and 3rd positions over four games.

Vilfranquense (2nd - 53 points)

The club from Vila Franca de Xira will be reasonably satisfied with how this season has panned out thus far. That may sound a little understated for a side currently in 2nd place but can be summed up in one word… “money”.

The club is guided by former Sporting and Estoril player, Rodolfo Frutuoso, who is currently the club’s President. A colourful character, Frutuoso invested heavily in players for the 2017-18 campaign, even persuading seasoned Angolan internationals, Carlos and Rúben Gouveia, to sign from being regulars at Girabola clubs. Added to that were Ukrainian midfielder, Yarchuk (Estoril), Brazilian wide man, Luquinhas (Benfica B), and Dutch utility man, Danny Henriques (Cambuur), which meant that hopes were high for promotion.

To be fair, the club has been in the Série D top two since the beginning of November and held top spot during January. But three losses to leaders, Mafra (twice in the league and once in the Taça de Portugal), coupled with draws against mid-table sides such as Caldas, Fátima and 1º Dezembro have seen the club fall off the pace. This was then made worse by last Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Caldas, leaving the club 7 points behind the leaders.

Filipe Coelho began the season as Coach but was moved on in early December after his side registered a Taça de Portugal loss to Praiense followed by two league draws. However, he was replaced by Vasco Matos who subsequently guided the side to five straight wins and an unbeaten run of ten league games. It leaves the club as one of the best three runner’s-up in the CPP as it stands. This means the promotional play-offs beckon and Vilfranquense could get a chance to taste glory after all.

The club has relied on the scoring prowess of 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder, David Moura, who leads the way with 10 goals from 26 league starts, making him an ever-present this season. Meanwhile striker, Marocas, has netted 8 from 15 starts and wide man, Luís Pinto, has 6 from 23 starts in the league.

At the defensive end of the pitch, Carlos Fernandes has conceded an equalling division low of 18 goals in the league. A veteran of clubs such as Boavista, Rio Ave, Foolad (Iran), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Bucaspor (Turkey) and Recreativo Caála in his native Angola, the big stopper has also won 16 caps for his country and represented the Palanças Negras at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He has made 23 appearances in the league this season and has been ably assisted in defensive duties by 25-year-old, Rúben Freitas (21 starts), who was previously a junior with both Sporting and Braga.

The remaining four games see Vilafranquense with a potentially tricky fixture list. Home games with 1º Dezembro, Loures (both mid-table) and Alcanenense (13th) will require maximum focus and a return to form. But the side also has to travel to the Azores where they will meet promotion play-off rivals, Praiense, on the 15th April - the penultimate game of the season - for a potential six-pointer!

Praiense (3rd - 48 points)

Fresh from a very positive season in 2017-18, the men from Praia da Vitória are back again and threatening to head into the play-offs once more. Many may remember Praiense from their exploits last season. Having qualified for the play-off by finishing in the top two midway through last season, the club then finished second again in the Zona Sul play-off division. They were only eliminated from the possibility of playing Segunda Liga football when beaten 2-1 on aggregate over two legs by Leixões at the end of the competition.

The club have managed to keep the architect of that golden season, Francisco Agatão, this campaign and that decision is reaping dividends. Ponta Delgada native, Filipe Andrade, finished as the club’s top scorer in 2016-17 and he has returned this season to pick up where he left off. A return of 10 league goals from 15 starts is impressive by anyone’s standards and is enough to see him sit in third of the list of Série D top scorers. Magina, a summer signing from Angrense has also helped out with 5 goals in 15 starts, whilst midfielder, João Peixoto, has also chipped in with 5 from 26 starts as an ever-present in the side.

The club has scored some important wins this season, being one of only two sides to defeat Mafra (2-1 in November) as well as dumping Vilafranquense out of the Taça de Portugal in the 4th round (3-2 after extra-time in November). But the last four games will not be easy for this side which has lost 8 league contests in 2017-18. The last of those losses was a key 2-1 result at 5th place Torreense which allowed 4th place Sacavenense to come within 4 points of them.

Next up for Praiense is the visit of Caldas (6th), themselves on a league revival of sorts, and this is followed by a visit to 1º Dezembro (9th) who need points to be safe from relegation. The mouth-watering fixture at home against Vilafranquense is then slated for 15th April in what could well prove to be a winner-take-all situation. Finally, it’s back to the mainland for the final game of the season with Loures (8th) on 22nd April. Can the men from the Azores do it again and make the play-offs?

 

Relegation Candidates

The relegation dogfight is where Série D comes into its own. Any three of the sides from 7th placed, Fátima, down to 13th placed, Alcanenense, is realistically still in some form of danger of the drop into regional football next season. Of the current crop, 16th placed, Guadalupe, 15th placed, Eléctrico, and 14th placed, Lusitânia, are mathematically down with just 14, 19 and 21 points respectively. This leaves them more than the available 12 points left to play for behind 10th placed, Sintrense. Guadalupe have registered just 3 league wins all season and have conceded a heavy 53 goals. Lusitânia’s relegation means that the island of Terceira in the Azores will be at least one CPP club lighter next season.

Of the sides in the drop zone, Alcanenense have arguably the worst run-in. Led by the long-serving José Torcato, the club hosts Torreense (5th) this coming Sunday before a trip along the A15 motorway to Caldas on the 8th April. A potentially easier game at home to 1º Dezembro on 15th April is one Torcato will be targeting for maximum points, although the Sintra side will be looking to get mathematically clear of relegation themselves. The season is then rounded off with a tough away fixture at Vilafranquense on 22nd April. With leading scorers, Danny Esteves and Itto both on only 6 goals apiece this season, Alcanenense will need to find their scoring boots quickly to be guaranteed of playing CPP football again in 2018-19.

Elsewhere, 11th placed Pêro Pinheiro are just 3 points behind 10th placed Sintrense and have a very real chance of safety. There is a tough trip to Torreense on 8th April to contend with but they do close the season out against 1º Dezembro who currently sit just 4 points above them. They do have a goalscorer in striker, Bruno Botas, who was signed from regional football. He has so far managed to find the net 7 times in the league from 16 starts and will be looked to for more as the club fights to save its CPP status in its first season at this level.

 

The current drop zone looks like this

11th Pêro Pinheiro - 31pts

12th Coruchense - 30pts

13th Alcanenense - 25pts

(Already relegated)

14th Lusitânia - 21pts

15th Eléctrico - 19pts

16th Guadalupe - 14pts

 

Caldas the Cup Kings

Drive an hour north of Lisbon along the A8 motorway and you’ll find Caldas da Rainha, and there, the local CPP side, Caldas SC. As a part-time resident of the town, I couldn’t let a review of Série D pass without a special mention of the club which has captured the hearts and minds of football fans across Portugal this season.

Despite what can at best be described as patchy league form (although a recent mini revival has propelled the club to 6th position), Caldas has become synonymous with a fairy-tale cup run. In a “little team that could” story, the club has made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Taça de Portugal and created headlines en-route.

Under the leadership of José Vala, back for his third spell in charge at the club, Caldas have already seen off Arouca and Académica de Coimbra (Segunda Liga) before a hard-fought extra-time win in the quarter-finals over fellow CPP and runaway Série E leaders, Farense. In the first leg of the semi-final, a trip to Aves (Primeira Liga) saw a narrow 1-0 defeat in a performance the club can be justly proud of. It leaves the second leg back at the modest Campo de Mata in Caldas on 18th April with all to play for.

The result in Aves in the first leg was made even more impressive by the fact that Caldas had travelled to the Azores the previous Sunday for a league fixture at Lusitânia. With a late-night flight back to the mainland and jobs to go to the following day, the players and staff of Caldas then had to be at the ready for the gruelling coach trip north to Aves and then back again to start another day’s work the following day. Oh how the other half live…

Now almost certainly safe from relegation, Caldas can enjoy a semi-final second leg - win, lose or draw - and dream of a date with Sporting or Porto in the final. But hidden in-between are the more regular opponents of Praiense, Alcanenense, Pêro Pinheiro and Guadalupe. But whatever happens, this season has been one to remember and Caldas are now well and truly on the footballing map again.

 

Important Dates

15th April - Praiense v Vilafranquense

18th April - Caldas v Aves (Taça de Portugal Semi-Finals 2nd Leg)

22nd April - Mafra v Sacavenense

 by Paul Gellard

 

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