Ask most football fans outside Portugal about the game in the country of the current European Champions and they would probably struggle to get past Benfica, Porto and Sporting.
However, those clubs are only the tip of a vast pyramid system, with thousands of footballers every weekend taking to the pitch, explaining in part the healthy conveyor belt of talent that has sustained the Seleção over the years. PortuGOAL brings you the first of a 5-part weekly series looking at Portugal’s third football tier.
Despite yet more restructuring of the third tier of Portuguese football, the Campeonato de Portugal Prio, 2017-18 has been another highly competitive season.
Hang onto your hats here, because this is how it works…
Instead of last season’s eight divisions in which the season was split in half, providing a meaningless second half of the campaign for many clubs, the CPP has been divided into five divisions of sixteen clubs for the current programme. Each side plays each other twice over the season in the usual round-robin format with the bottom six sides from each division relegated to the regional divisions. The top club from each division automatically enters into the promotion play-offs whilst the best three runners-up are then also admitted. The two sides who make it all the way to the finish are promoted to the Liga Ledman Pro (Portugal’s second tier) for 2018-19.
Now done with the formalities of the competition rules, here is the first instalment of a five-part series looking at each division and the progress so far in 2017-18. So let’s start at the beginning.
With two clubs in this season’s Série A having been relegated from last season’s Segunda Liga, it’s perhaps no surprise both are close to top spot this season. Vizela currently lead the way on 55 points whilst Fafe sit in third on 44 points as they press for what looks almost certain to be a runners-up spot at best. The two clubs’ league positions are punctuated by Vilaverdense on 48 points which, as it stands, is enough to qualify for one of the best three runners-up spots in CPP.
Vizela are marshalled by 46-year-old Carlos Cunha who took over the helm in March of 2017, unable to keep a struggling side in the Segunda Liga. However, he has built a very competitive squad for the 2017-18 season and this has been borne out by the fact that the side is unbeaten in the league so far. At present 16 wins and 7 draws from 23 games played is an impressive record and, indeed, the only time the club has tasted defeat this season came in the 4th Round of the Taça de Portugal when they lost on penalties to Vilaverdense after a 2-2 draw following extra time.
Cunha has managed to keep the bulk of his squad from the Segunda Liga campaign intact. Former Portugal Under-18 goalkeeper, Pedro Albergaria, has been an ever-present in the league this season with 23 starts. Former Portugal Under-20 striker, Carlos Fortes, has also stayed at the club and is the side’s joint top scorer with 8 league goals. 28-year-old right-back, João Pedro, has only ever turned out for Vizela and he has made 21 league starts this season in a back four which has given up just 9 league goals. Added to that are important signings such as Ivorian midfielder, Evra (21 starts + 1 goal) and 22-year-old João Paredes (8 league goals from 10 starts) from Anadia and it’s hard to see Vizela being caught. That said the 18th March home fixture with Fafe promises to be special.
The chasing pack
As mentioned previously, pragmatism dictates that it’s all about finishing as one of the best three runners-up for the chasing pack. It’s currently advantage Vilaverdense with seven games remaining. This position was cemented this past Sunday when the club played host to third placed Fafe at the Cruz do Reguengo. A 2-1 win for the home side opened up the gap to 4 points.
As well as a competent league campaign which has seen just three losses, the Vila Verde side has also enjoyed an excellent Taça de Portugal campaign. Top-flight Boavista and league leaders Vizela were both put to the sword before the club lost out 0-4 to Sporting in the 5th Round at Alvalade in front of just shy of 12,000 spectators.
The coach is 35-year-old António Barbosa who is in his second full season with the club and he has recruited shrewdly, with striker Zé Pedro signed from Académico Viseu and leading the way with 10 league goals. Interestingly, the club also signed two Malaysian players - Dominic Tan and Syamer Kutty Abba - both of whom have yet to make an appearance but have been included in match day squads.
Fafe, in third position, by contrast had to embark on a major rebuilding project after their relegation from the Segunda Liga. Manuel Monteiro joined as Coach in April and stuck with the club until the third game into the season. He has since moved onto Salgueiros in Série B and was replaced by Ivo Castro. The new man has subsequently overseen five league losses in total, but can include a 3-1 win over Vilaverdense back in October. However, the subsequent loss to that side on Sunday has been a setback in the hunt for promotion. The club also faces a tough test away to Vizela on 18th March.
Goals have been tricky to come by for Fafe when compared with their fellow promotion-chasing sides. A total of 32 league goals have so far been shared around with Brazilian striker, Nei, leading the pack at the moment on 6 from 14 starts since signing from Guarani. Elsewhere, Cape Verde centre-half, Adilson, has been an ever-present in all but one game this season, managing a solitary goal.
With seven games to play, it’s still anyone’s guess as to who may be for the drop to the regional leagues. With the bottom six “on offer” it could realistically still be six of ten sides with just 4 points separating 11th from 7th place.
One side that is guaranteed relegation is 16th placed Minas Argozelo. The club has had a miserable season and sits on just 8 points from 23 games, losing a whopping 19 of those. They can only accrue a maximum of 21 points meaning regional football again next season. The club was promoted from the top division of the Bragança regional leagues at the end of last season, going unbeaten in 16 games. This season has been a step too far however for coach, António Forneiro, and his players.
Elsewhere, the bottom of the table sees Mondinense in 15th (15 points), Arões in 14th (19 points), Atlético dos Arcos in 13th (20 points), Bragança in 12th (23 points) and Madeiran club, Câmara de Lobos, in 11th (30 points) and currently a solitary point away from safety. The one shred of comfort for these sides may be for Câmara de Lobos who have won their last four straight league games. But with only Arões left to play of the teams around them and a home game with Vizela still to come, it remains to be seen whether Luís Pestana’s side can continue their run and get themselves out of trouble.
18th March - Fafe (3rd) v Vizela (1st)
By Paul Gellard