Paulo Fonseca’s reputation soars; Benfica embarrassed; another Ronaldo record
FC Porto confidently strode into the last 16 of the Champions League with a 5-2 hammering of Monaco at the Estádio do Dragão last night. As has often been the case this season, striker Vincent Aboubakar was the catalyst behind an impressive display.
Elsewhere, Paulo Fonseca closed out a sensational group phase by his Shakhtar Donetsk team by becoming the first coach to get the better of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side this season, winning 2-1 in Ukraine. Fonseca had said that should his team qualify for the knockout stage he would give his post-match press conference dressed in a Zorro outfit… and was as good as his word!
Cristiano Ronaldo may be struggling for form domestically, but in the Champions League he is unstoppable, scoring a brilliant goal against Dortmund to set a new record as the only player to hit the net in each of the six group games.
Porto 5-2 Monaco
Given how each team performed last season, when the Champions League group stage draw was made Porto fans could have been forgiven for viewing their meetings with Leonardo Jardim’s team with some trepidation. However, the Dragons followed up their excellent 3-0 win in the principality in September with an equally comprehensive victory last night to seal second spot in Group G.
Vincent Aboubakar made it five goals in five CL matches in 2017/18 with a first-half double, while Yacine Brahimi and Alex Telles crowned fine individual displays with a goal apiece, and late substitute Tiquinho Soares scored Porto’s fifth. A second-string Monaco managed to score two goals in the second half, the second of which was headed in by former Porto favourite Radamel Falcao, and which was warmly applauded by the home supporters, but Porto’s victory was never in doubt. The match was ten vs. ten for almost one hour after Porto centre-back Felipe and Monaco’s Rachid Ghezzal were sent off after getting into an ugly tussle in the first half.
“We’re the only Portuguese team into the last 16. Very few people believed we would do what we’ve done in this competition. Our first goal was to get through the group phase, now we can dream,” said Porto coach Sérgio Conceição.
Benfica embarrassed, Sporting fall at Camp Nou
On Tuesday night Portugal’s other two clubs in this season’s Champions League waved goodbye to the competition, albeit in very different circumstances. Sporting were unable to counter the favouritism of Barcelona, losing to two second-half goals in Spain, but overall Jorge Jesus’s side gave a good account of themselves in a group containing the Spanish giants and Juventus – two teams with legitimate ambitions of winning the tournament – and Olympiakos. The Lions accumulated 7 points to book their place in the Europa League and will be a seeded team in Monday’s draw.
Benfica’s disastrous Champions League campaign came to an inglorious end with a 2-0 defeat in Lisbon against Basel. The Eagles lost all six of their matches, scoring just one goal and conceding 14 in the process – the worst ever record by a Portuguese club in the competition. “Our adversaries were not that much superior to us,” claimed Benfica coach Rui Vitória, but the numbers suggest otherwise and if the 4-time Liga NOS champions fail to react domestically, the manager’s position will start to come under intense scrutiny.
Shakhtar tame City
Few gave Paulo Fonseca’s Shakhtar Donetsk much of a chance when they were drawn in the same group as Manchester City and Napoli, but a brilliant group phase, including two victories against what many say are currently the strongest sides in England and Italy, saw the Ukrainian team qualify with ease, accumulating 12 points from their 6 matches, double the number of 3rd-placed Napoli.
Fonseca had promised back in November that he would appear in the press conference in a Zorro outfit following his last match if Shakhtar got through, and the former Paços, Porto and Braga coach duly donned a black mask, cape and hat when facing the journalists after a 2-1 victory. “Do you want me to speak with or without my mask,” quipped Fonseca, before saying: “I think not only the Shakhtar supporters, but all Ukrainians should be proud of this team. Getting 12 points in this group is fantastic.”
Ronaldo sets another record
Cristiano Ronaldo has had an unusually barren spell so far this season in La Liga, but it’s been very much ‘business as usual’ in the Champions League. Early in yesterday’s match at home to Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabeu Ronaldo called for the ball on the corner of the 18-yard-box, received the pass, cut inside and struck a delicious shot into the far top corner. It was Ronaldo’s 9th goal in this season’s competition and makes him the first player to score in all six group games in Champions League history. Save some of those for Russia Ron…
By Tom Kundert