It was a disappointing week for Portugal’s three Champions League participants, with Porto, Sporting and Benfica all losing, albeit by a single goal against strong opposition.

Sporting fans must be getting tired of “moral victories”. The Lions were denied a positive result against one of Europe’s top teams yet again as a late goal by Mario Mandzukic completed a Juventus comeback in Turin.

Sérgio Conceição and Rui Vitória selected young goalkeepers with no Champions League experience for Porto and Benfica respectively, and while both Mile Svilar and José Sá acquitted themselves well for the most part, each made a mistake that cost a goal.

 

Groundhog Day

Jorge Jesus received much criticism for his Champions League record at Benfica, and his chances of improving it at Sporting have been sparse given the unfavourable draws the Lions have been dealt the last two years.

Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund stood in Sporting’s way last season, and this year the task was just as difficult with the Lisbon club placed in a group containing Barcelona and Juventus.

That Sporting have lost 6 games against these giants (Real Madrid x2, Dortmund x2, Barça and Juve) is not hugely surprising. However, each and every one of the defeats has been by a single goal and it is difficult to deny that with a little bit more luck Jesus’ side could have obtained different results.

The best performance in this half dozen toughest of tests came at the Santiago Bernabeu last season, where Sporting were leading after largely outplaying the European Champions until the dying minutes, until Cristiano Ronaldo and Álvaro Morata cruelly turned it around.

Yesterday at the Allianz Stadium, Sporting again took the lead, thanks to an Alex Sandro own goal, only for Miralem Pjanic to equalise for Juventus with a terrific free kick. Sporting appeared to be holding on relatively comfortably, until Mandzukic’s late intervention brought on a familiar sinking feeling.

 

Casillas dropped

In the pre-match press conference before Porto took on RB Leipzig in Germany, coach Sérgio Conceição was asked if he would surprise onlookers again with his team selection, as he had done to good effect in the previous Champions League match against Monaco, with the inclusion of Sérgio Oliveira.

“I’m not paid to pull off surprises, I’m paid to select the best team possible,” was his response.

He subsequently pulled off an even bigger surprise as Iker Casillas was relegated to the bench and José Sá started between the sticks for Porto. Just eight minutes were on the clock when Sá made a hash of a regulation save, spilling the ball and allowing Willi Orban to open the scoring for the Germans.

Porto equalised soon afterwards through the rejuvenated Vincent Aboubakar, and truth be told José Sá was solid for the rest of the match. It was through no fault of his that Porto eventually went down 3-2, the closeness of the scoreline masking a below-par performance by the Dragons who were always second best.

Would it have been different if Casillas had started? We will never know, but Conceição – who insisted it was “a technical decision, and if I had to choose the starting XI again I would choose the exact same players” – has had to endure a torrent of criticism for the decision. Curiously, many of those criticising him are the exact same analysts who lavished him with praise for his surprise selection in the previous Champions League match.

 

Mile Svilar sets record

While events in Leipzig may have signalled the beginning of the end of a great goalkeeping career, back in Lisbon, an 18-year-old custodian took to the pitch for his first high-profile match.

Belgian teenager Miles Svilar became the youngest ever goalkeeper to start a Champions League game, as he lined up for Benfica against Manchester United in the Portuguese capital.

After several rushes from his line to clear impending danger and some sharp saves, things were going well for Svilar, and you got the impression the local press were preparing their “Heir to Preud’homme!” headlines, alluding to the young ‘keeper’s compatriot who shined so brilliantly for the club in the 90s. Not least because Benfica were inexistent as an attacking force, seemingly content to soak up pressure or simply unable to mount any real threat against the English giants.

Alas, the fairy-tale start to Svilar’s career on the big stage did not materialise as he badly misjudged the flight of a Marcus Rashford free kick and/or his own position, taking a step backwards as he caught the ball, unfortunately for him and for Benfica, inside the net for the only goal of the game.

Upon the final whistle a visibly upset Svilar mouthed an apology to the fans, while holding up his hands, and was consoled by his compatriot Romelu Lukaku and others.

“This is the sort of goal only a great goalkeeper will concede, a goalkeeper who is not afraid to come off his line,” offered Mourinho after the match. “This kid’s a beast, a phenomenon. The Benfica president better prepare a big briefcase because they’re going to pay a lot of money for him.”

Svilar himself insists the mistake will not halt his progress. “I should have done better on the goal but there’s nothing I can do about it now and I’m not going to let it affect me,” he said. “It’s part of my development. I’m ready to continue and I hope to do better in the future.”

That immediate future will be playing for Benfica against Desportivo das Aves on Sunday, with Benfica coach Rui Vitória emphatically saying he will retain his starting spot.

By Tom Kundert

 

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  • Guest - jon/usa

    Well, Benfica were by no means outmatched by an individually superior Manchester United side, but this was largely due to the fact that both Vitoria and Mourinho wanted to keep this tight and balanced. United really didn't create much from open play, so it's a shame that we were defeated by such a preventable goal. With regards to Svilar, I think he actually didn't look all that bad. The frango he gave up certainly isn't something you see everyday, but apart from that mistake, he looked pretty confident -- certainly more composed than Varela. Benching him this Sunday in favor of Julio Cesar could destroy his confidence, so I actually wouldn't mind seeing him get the start against Aves.

    The only positive I can take from this match was Ruben Dias' performance. While he's definitely still far from the finished article, he proved that he is good enough to compete with the very best. I was very impressed with how well he coped with the threat of Lukaku -- he had the Belgian striker in his pocket for the majority of the match. The rest of the team was quite poor. Douglas was a nightmare defensively, Pizzi is still far from his best, Goncalves is still a bit too raw for this level, and Augusto offered nothing in an attacking sense.

    We're all but out of the Champions league, so I would have no problem if Rui Vitoria decided to place 100% of his attention on the league, a competition that is still far from over.

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  • Disappointing result for Portuguese teams, really. But I have a different take on things than maybe most here.

    If we analyze things, each club is different. Benfica is where they are because the Prez is a money hungry goombah who used to be good at building teams, but all he cares about now is selling and making money. Sporting very unwisely got rid of an excellent manager in Marco Silva at a discount price to pay for the biggest fraud in Portuguese coaching at an insane pay grade. Porto has had a blend of both. Selling off of too many quality players, and bad selections for managers (Julen Lopestegui and Nuno ES).

    I also believe that the other big factor is how far up the rest of the league has come in quality. If we are honest, the German league is a joke. Gone are the days when Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 were title contenders. Bayern are title champions 5 seasons in a row, and only RB Leipzig are a minor threat to them and that's because the sponsor has funneled money into the club.

    Spain is also a bit of a joke. Barca and Real are the giants, Atletico is no longer a contender, and the other clubs are 2-3 levels below. France is PSG and oil money. The English league is very competitive and you feel anything can happen in any given name. In this way, I feel the Portuguese and English leagues are a bit similar.

    Honestly, FIFA, UEFA and FIFA fairplay are a joke. As long as private interests are allowed to sink their teeth into individual clubs and the wealth inequality grows, this nonsense will continue. This is not even to mention the corruption that exists within officiating at the Champions League level to protect the already rich clubs. The official in the Sporting vs Barca game was absolutely disgusting. So blatant with the calls favouring Barca.

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  • The English league is very competitive and you feel anything can happen in any given name

    A complete myth. One of Chelsea, Man City or Man Utd will win the league as they have done for the past 11 years or so.
    Regarding your criticism of Spain/Germany you might want to look at their current league tables...

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  • You don't think the English league is competitive?

    So I guess Manchester United losing to Huddersfield over the weekend is of little value, right? How about when Chelsea lost to Burnley at the beginning of this season? Or the fact that Liverpool, one of the two most winningest clubs in England, got shellacked by Tottenham on Sunday? What about the fact that there have been 4 different Champions in the Premier League in the last 5 years?

    With respect to Germany, you point out the current table but completely fail to address this fact:

    Bundesliga Champions: Bayern Munich (2012-13), Bayern Munich (2013-14), Bayern Munich (2014-15), Bayern Munich (2015-16), Bayern Munich (2016-17).

    So..... yeah, about that.

    My point was simply that the league as a whole offers more competition to the bigger teams in England and Portugal. In Portugal, this was not the case a few years ago, but these last 3 seasons, you see the Chaves, Rio Ave's, Maritimo's of the league really fight hard and get decent results against the Big 3.

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  • Every league has surprise results. Barcelona usually lose to one of the smaller clubs once per season as do Madrid. So what? You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument but since Arsenal won it –Leicester fluke aside – its been the same 3 teams winning it and it’ll be these same 3 teams for the foreseeable future.
    And Liverpool havent won the league in 26 years!

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  • "You can look at the past 4 years to serve your own argument".....proceeds to throw away valid point. Who is trying to serve their own argument dude? And why no comment on the Bundesliga? By the way, how is one team being better than everyone else in the league a fluke? Did you watch Leicester that year? They beat everyone, small teams, big teams, it was hardly a fluke. They earned it. What a callous, ridiculous statement.

    You made my point for me. Barca and Madrid may lose to one small team once per year. Exactly, which is what I said. The Spanish league is so uncompetitive it's a joke. In the UK, there is a real chance AS WE JUST SAW, that a giant like Man U can lose on any given weekend to HUDDERSFIELD.

    The saddest thing in all this, is that if your prior comments are to be believed, you're a Porto supporter. God help us all.

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  • You said the German league is a joke so I pointed out that the table at the moment isn’t Bayern ahead by the usual 10 points or whatever so its more competitive this season.
    You then said Spain was a bit of a joke using Spurs beating Liverpool and Man Utd losing to Huddersfield as an example of how competitive the English league is and Spain isn’t. I pointed out that smaller teams beat Barca/Madrid like Huddersfield/Man Utd.
    Regarding Spurs beating Liverpool, Ateltico/Valencia/Sevilla beat each other and Atletico/Valencia do well against Barca/Madrid so there is competition between teams on a game to game basis and the bigger teams can lose against each other.
    Regarding the league winners yes Bayern have won the German league but the other teams fighting for Europe has been different teams.
    If Leicesetr wasn’t a fluke then why have they dropped like a stone since and when should we expect them to win it again?
    These things happen ever now and then like Lille, Verona, Wolfsburg, Deportivo….

    No need to repeat my other points but you might need to calm down.
    And me liking Porto has nothing to do with anything!

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  • I'm not trying to cause an argument or ocme over as an idiot so apologies if you are offended by the tone of my posts.
    My overall point is that there is so much hype around the Premier League things get distorted and the "most competitive league in the world" narrative isn't true, its just marketing.
    I'll take Liga Nos any day of the week.:)

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  • I'm not offended at all man, there is no need to apologize, although I appreciate the gesture. Argument and debate is good, healthy. We'll have to agree to disagree. I just don't like arguing with a fellow supporter. I'd rather save my energy for when the Benfica fans come on here and try to pretend they don't have the Portuguese league officials in their pocket.

    I do agree that the EPL is overhyped, but I do think it is most competitive league in Europe (not world). I do think there is a Brit compulsion to name anything they do as "best in the world", and the EPL is not the best. Most competitive yes, best no. But the Brit media tends to do this all the time. Just watch a Formula 1 race and see how the Lewis Hamilton hype train goes on. Forget the fact that the guy drives a car that is light years better than the competition.

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  • I don't like arguing with a fellow Porto fan that’s just too depressing.
    I also dont want to start commenting on who gets what decision from which ref either!
    :o

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