Each Champions League week has been practically déjà vu for Portugal’s participants in this season’s competition. Porto have looked every bit a team intent on making a splash in the competition, while Benfica have looked out of their depth. And so it came to pass again this week, as the Dragons guaranteed top spot in Group D with a 3-1 home win over Schalke, while Benfica were crushed 5-1 at Bayern Munich.
In the Europa League, Sporting travelled to Azerbaijan but will be in good heart on the long trip back to Lisbon after putting Qarabag to the sword, racking up a 6-1 victory to book their place in the knockout stage after Christmas. For Portuguese abroad, there were important late winners for José Mourinho and Paulo Fonseca in the Champions League, while Daniel Candeias received a controversial red card for Rangers.
Bayern Munich 5-1 Benfica
The coaches of both teams went into the match under pressure on the back of poor form and results. Alas, while a big win alleviated the clouds in the home dugout, at least temporarily for Niko Kovac, his Portuguese counterpart Rui Vitória cut a forlorn figure as the goals kept flying past Odisseas Vlachodimos, despite the best efforts of the Benfica goalkeeper who was by far his team’s best player.
Unfortunately for Benfica, Arjen Robben chose the occasion to roll back the years. Often accused of being a one-trick pony, no-one can deny it is a mighty fine trick… with no known antidote. Sure enough, the 34-year-old Dutch winger picked up the ball wide right, cut into the box and thundered unstoppable shots into the net with his lethal left foot – twice in quick succession – to put the German giants well in control in the first half.
While Benfica’s defenders may be excused for failing to halt a master of his craft, it was harder to forgive two identical goals conceded either side of half time as Lewandowski easily evaded any attempt at marking to head the ball into the net direct from corners.
In between, Benfica substitute Gedson Fernandes, inexplicably dropped from the team recently in favour of the anonymous Gabriel, had briefly given the large contingent of visiting fans something to cheer with a fine finish within a minute of coming on as a second-half substitute. But Benfica’s misery was complete when Franck Ribéry struck goal number five, and truth be told only a handful of superb saves by Vlachodimos prevented an even bigger embarrassment for the Lisbon outfit.
Back in the Portuguese capital, on Wednesday evening news circulated in the Portuguese media that Rui Vitória had been sacked, only for the reports to be denied the next day. Trying times for the Eagles.
Porto 3-1 Schalke 04
Porto confirmed top spot in their section in some style, beating German outfit Schalke 3-1 to make it 13 points from five matches. Should Sérgio Conceição’s side win against Galatasaray in a couple of weeks, they will equal their best ever points haul in the group phase of the Champions League.
The hosts served notice of their intentions early on, as powerful shots from distance by Danilo and Marega brought two excellent diving saves out of Fahrmann. The Bundesliga outfit, who were inoffensive throughout, survived until the break but were overwhelmed in the second half.
Brazilian centre-back Militão got the ball rolling with an athletic header from an Óliver Torres cross, and soon afterwards Mexican winger Jesús Corona continued his fine form with a neat finish inside the near post. Centre-back Filipe almost joined in the fun with a spectacular overhead kick from the edge of the box that smacked against the bar.
Out of nowhere the Germans were given a lifeline when Óliver handled in the box and Bentaleb dispatched the resulting spot kick past Casillas in the 89th minute. The Germans suddenly believed they could snatch a barely deserved draw, threw men forward and inevitably left space at the back. Marega soon had the ball in the net, it was ruled out for offside, but the Malian would not be denied and finished cleverly when another chance came his way to complete a 3-1 win.
Qarabag 1-6 Sporting
Marcel Keizer could not have hoped for a better start to life as Sporting coach. After beating Lusitano 4-1 away in the Portuguese Cup on Saturday, the Lions were again on the road and bettered that result with a 6-1 thrashing of Quarabag in Azerbaijan.
The first task a new coach faces is to convince the players to come on board regarding his ideas about how the game should be played. Ten goals in two matches – albeit against weak opposition – will increase Keizer’s chances of doing that, as well as raising confidence in the squad. As for the tweaks in personnel, the impact Brazilian midfielder Wendel has made since being installed into the starting line-up by the Dutchman makes his almost complete neglection by both José Peseiro and Jorge Jesus all the more unfathomable.
Sporting got off to the perfect start when Bas Dost was fouled in the box in the 5th minute, and the striker picked himself up to give the visitors the lead from the penalty spot. But the Azeris hit back with a well worked goal soon afterwards, Zoubir rifling an angled shot past Renan Ribeiro from close range.
Bruno Fernandes soon restored Sporting’s lead, before Nani rolled back the years by waltzing through the heart of the Qarabag defence and slotting in the third for the Portuguese side, followed by his trademark backflip celebration.
In the second half Sporting accentuated their domination with a well-taken brace by Diaby and another goal by Bruno Fernandes. It’s early days in the Keizer era, but after a tough summer and some turgid football under Peseiro, it appears Sporting fans may at last have something to get excited about.
Portuguese Abroad Champions League round-up:
Paulo Fonseca’s Shakhtar Donetsk won their first match of the Champions League group phase to ensure that qualification is in their own hands heading into the final matchday. The Ukrainians scored a 92nd-minute winner away at Germans Hoffenheim to earn a priceless 3-2 victory.
Shakhtar took an early 2-0 lead inside the first 15 minutes through Brazilians Ismaily and Taison at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, but by half time the match was level at 2-2. With Shakhtar needing a win stay in the competition, Taison scored a last-gasp winner to leave the Ukrainian side needing to beat Lyon at home to qualify for the knockouts later this month. Lyon, with Anthony Lopes in goal, drew 2-2 with group leaders Manchester City.
“Now everything is in our hands,” Fonseca said after the match. “We understand perfectly well that we need to win the next game vs Lyon. We know how difficult the fight will be. By drawing with Manchester City, Lyon proved once again that they are a great club.
“In general, the game really turned out very spectacular. This very kind of football attracts fans. Everyone who came to the stadium or watched the match on TV, I suppose, really enjoyed it. Both teams had multiple scoring chances. The play was open and offensive.
“Perhaps we should have tried to keep the two-goal advantage instead of conceding goals. At that point, certain things didn’t work. Nevertheless, in the end, we netted the winning goal - those are the fruit of our faith and work until the very final whistle.”
Fonseca’s words are in keeping with his dedication to his approach towards the game, and the former Porto boss reaffirmed the point that his teams will always try to assert their style. “I will repeat the same thing today: we try never to depart from our principles, we always want to show our football. In this match, we changed only the formation. Even with ten men, they held the ball more than us in certain periods. This is not exactly what I expected. I wanted Shakhtar to possess the ball more than it happened in the game.”
Ronaldo lays on Juve winner; Mourinho’s boast after win
Group H in the Champions League has been settled, with Juventus winning the group after beating Valencia 1-0 in Turin. Cristiano Ronaldo and João Cancelo started for Juventus and Gonçalo Guedes was in the visiting line-up, as Ronaldo provided the assist for Mario Mandzukic’s winner to knock Valencia out of the competition and into the Europa League.
José Mourinho’s Manchester United join Juventus in the knockouts after a last-gasp 1-0 win over Young Boys at Old Trafford. After what was another sub-par performance from the Red Devils, Marouane Fellaini was the hero with an injury-time strike with his left foot. The goal rescued United from the prospect of failing to score in all three home games in the group.
“We have qualified, that’s good,” said Mourinho, who celebrated the late goal by slamming a crate of water bottles onto the dugout turf. “It was a very difficult group and to qualify with one match to go is obviously good. The performance had lots of good things but also lots of disappointed things. We lost too many chances, crucial chances in crucial moments of the game.
“For some of my lovers I just want to say for the ones that like stats: 14 seasons in the Champions League, 14 times qualified through the group phase. Never one of my teams stay behind in the group phase. The season I didn't play Champions League, I won the Europa League.”
Elsewhere in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund booked their place in the knockouts with a 0-0 home draw with Club Brugge in Group A, selecting Raphaël Guerreiro at left-back. Atletico Madrid lead the group heading into the final matchday, with Gelson Martins watching from the bench as the Spaniards beat Monaco 2-0. Meanwhile, Nélson Semedo played as Barcelona won Group B with a 2-1 victory at PSV.
Mário Rui was in the Napoli team that beat Red Star Belgrade 3-1 in Group C, leaving the Italian side knowing their fate will be decided against Liverpool at Anfield on the final matchday. Lokomotiv Moscow have a chance of reaching the Europa League as Eder featured in their 2-0 win over Galatasaray, although Manuel Fernandes missed the game. André Simões also missed AEK Athens’ home defeat to Ajax through suspension.
Europa League round-up: Controversial Candeias red; defeat for Martins’ Olympiakos
There was huge controversy in Group G of the Champions League after Rangers were reduced to ten men in the first half of their 0-0 draw with Villarreal at Ibrox. Portuguese Daniel Candeias received a second yellow card just before half time, but replays suggested the former Benfica mad did not commit any foul and was perhaps mistaken for a teammate.
Despite the disadvantage, Rangers battled to a draw in Glasgow, which leaves them needing to beat Rapid Vienna in Austria next month to quality for the knockouts. “Daniel Candeias – he has a lot of friends in that dressing room,” Rangers boss Steven Gerrard said after the game.
“I would like to see it again and I would like to see it nice and clearly. We have to decide when we see it if we have an opinion as it could be a mistaken identity-type scenario.”
Candeias has not had the best of luck with red cards recently. Rangers were this week charged by the Scottish FA for 'bringing the game into disrepute' following their complaints over referee Willie Collum's decision to send Candeias off towards the end of a match against St Mirren earlier this month. Candeias was issued a second yellow card in that match for a gesture towards opponent Anton Ferdinand, a decision which was labelled "embarrassing" by Rangers manager Gerrard.
Martins left needing Milan win
Greek giants Olympiakos will need to beat Italians AC Milan on the final matchday in order to qualify for the knockout phase, after Pedro Martins’ side went down 1-0 to Real Betis in Group F. William Carvalho played in midfield for Betis, who top the group, while former Vitória Guimarães boss Martins selected José Sá and Daniel Pondence in his side. Former Porto goalkeeper Sá kept the scoreline close by saving a penalty - and the rebound! - inside the first 20 minutes.
“It’s a negative result for us,” Martins said. “We were facing a side who produce attractive football. It was a difficult match, but we played well. We could have scored a goal, but Betis also could have found a second goal. We gave it all on the pitch. We are not satisfied with the result, but we are proud for the effort of our players. I am confident that we can defeat Milan and qualify."
Perhaps one of the surprise results on the evening saw Cypriots Apollon beat already qualified Lazio 2-0 at home in Group H. The match was also notable for a spectacular goal by Apollon’s David Faupala, who connected with a cross from the right from experienced Portuguese midfielder João Pedro by executing a bicycle-kick past Lazio goalkeeper Silvio Proto.
In the same group, more humiliation for already-eliminated Marseille in the competition as the French side were thrashed 4-0 by Frankfurt in Germany. Portuguese defender Rolando was introduced with his side 2-0 down on the hour mark, but was unable to prevent further collapse for last season’s finalists, who are bottom of the group.
Spanish side Sevilla still have work to do after losing 1-0 to Standard Liege in Belgium. Orlando Sá was a second-half entrance for Standard, while Daniel Carriço started the match and André Silva was a second-half substitute for the visitors, who were reduced to ten men on 68 minutes. The result means Sevilla will probably need a win on the final matchday against group leaders Krasnodar, who beat an Akhisarspor side containing Miguel Lopes and Hélder Barbosa.
Finally, veteran Portuguese midfielder Vieirinha turned out at Stamford Bridge for Greeks PAOK in their 4-0 defeat in London. Vieirinha's side must now beat BATE Borisov next month to have a chance of qualification. Bruma played the full ninety minutes of Leipzig’s 1-0 defeat at Salzburg which leaves them relying on other results to progress in Group B.
By Tom Kundert & Sean Gillen