The new Liga NOS season continued this weekend and the goals continued to flow with 30 scored across 9 matches.
We saw the first draws of the fledgling campaign, but they were conducted in entertaining fashion, Aves and Tondela serving up a 2-2 to begin the round’s action before newly-promoted Santa Clara produced a big upset to hold Braga to a 3-3, from 3-0 down. Benfica, Porto and Sporting all continued their 100% starts although the latter pair were made to sweat against Belenenses and Vitória Setúbal respectively.
This week’s standout figure appeared in one of the aforementioned matches, and is no stranger to any followers of European football: Nani has returned for a third spell at Sporting and it was he who proved the difference on Saturday night, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win for the Lions.
Nani rejoined Sporting this summer for his third stint at the club, having spent 2014/15 on loan in Lisbon as well as of course rising through the youth ranks of the team before his high profile move to Manchester United in 2007. As such, there’s clearly a large emotional bond between the player and team, and despite now arguably being past his peak at 31 years old, his performance on Saturday night still showed a motivated individual who craves more success with his boyhood club.
The pace might not quite be quite as blistering any more but the speed of thought and sense of opportunism remains in his game, as evidenced by his opening goal after just 9 minutes. Vitória goalkeeper Cristiano and his defence all seemed to be expecting a cross from Nani after an exchange with Jefferson, but instead he tried an ambitious effort on goal that snuck in at the near post.
Vitória’s Zequinha equalised after a mixup in the Sporting defence to level the scores at the break. Wearing the captain’s armband, Nani drove the home side forward in the second half and almost scored a superb second goal, desperately unlucky to see his well struck free kick clip the top of the crossbar.
However, in the 66th minute Nani popped up to score Sporting’s second, which would ultimately secure them all three points. This time he met substitute Jovane Cabral’s cross with a bullet header to leave Cristiano no chance at all this time.
Sporting have flattered to deceive in their first two matches of the new season but have six points to show for it. Nani admitted during pre-season that he and the rest of the team felt that perhaps the competitive campaign had begun a little too quickly in terms of their physical conditioning so this looks to have been a factor but what is clear is that there is some spirit in this squad. This will be a vital component of their season, particularly with the regards to the considerable off field dramas affecting the club.
With a true Sporting hero leading them from the front, the Lions should be up there challenging for honours once again this season.
by Jamie Farr