FC Porto 2-1 Sporting
A thrilling game at the Estádio do Dragão ended with a 2-1 win for the hosts as Porto effectively knocked Sporting out of the title race and ensured they would at least maintain their 5-point lead going into the final nine matches of the season.
Chances were created at both ends in a surprisingly open game considering what was at stake. Marcano headed Porto into the lead on 29 minutes, but Sporting substitute Rafael Leão equalised on the stroke of half time with his first touch of the ball. Brahimi restored the home side’s lead soon after the break, but only a fantastic Casillas save and a glaring miss by Rafael Leão prevented Sporting from grabbing a late equaliser.
Both teams were weakened by injuries and suspensions, with Porto missing Alex Telles, Ricardo Pereira, Danilo, Tiquinho Soares and Aboubakar, and Sporting having to make do without their two biggest goal threats, Bas Dost and Gelson Martins.
The three previous meetings between these two teams this season had produced just one goal, but a bright opening set the tone for an exciting match with both sides creating chances throughout 90 highly entertaining minutes. In the 12th minute Marega twice came desperately close to giving Porto the lead, heading against the post then seeing his follow-up effort cleared off the line by Bryan Ruiz.
Sporting hit back soon after, a well-worked move ending with Ruiz playing in Doumbia, who inexplicably went down in search of a penalty instead of shooting with just Casillas between him and the net. The Ivorian striker had another chance almost immediately as he took advantage of hesitation by Marcano to steal in behind the Porto defence, but he could not beat Casillas who raced out of goal to deflect Doumbia’s shot away for a corner.
[To watch match highlights click on the screen below]
Spurred on by the near misses, Sporting continued to press, with Bruno Fernandes trying his luck with two shots from range, the first parried away by Casillas, the second clearing the bar. Porto hit back as Marega raced through on goal one-on-one with Patrício, but the Malian striker screwed his shot wide.
The majority of fans in the packed stadium soon erupted in jubilation however, as Maxi Pereira cleverly created space and slipped a neat pass to Héctor Herrera, who looked up and crossed perfectly onto the head of Marcano who made no mistake to put Porto into the lead.
Things appeared to take a turn for the worse for Sporting when Doumbia picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Rafael Leão in the 44th minute, but it proved a blessing in disguise as the youngster’s first contribution was to make a superb darting run across the box, picked out by a lovely Bryan Ruiz pass, with Leão firing first-time low and hard into the net, the ball passing between Iker Casillas’ legs.
Porto did not have long to wait to restore their lead however. Shortly after the restart in the second half Gonçalo Paciência broke down the right and his low cross found its way to Brahimi, who made no mistake as he lifted the ball over Patrício into the roof of the net.
Sporting refused to lie down and Bryan Ruiz headed onto the outside of the post before Mathieu tested Casillas reflexes with a free kick that the Spaniard was equal to. Marega nearly wrapped up the points in the 81st minute as he lobbed Rui Patrício but Battaglia was on hand to hack the ball off the line.
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus threw on Fredy Montero for Fábio Coentrão in a last throw of the dice, and the substitute almost mirrored what Leão had done in the first half by scoring with his first touch, the Colombian denied by a brilliant point-blank save from Casillas. There was still time for the visitors to almost snatch an equaliser, as Rúben Ribeiro picked out Leão with a pinpoint cross, but the unmarked youngster blazed his volley over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.
Porto held on for a crucial win that gives them an eight-point lead at the table summit, at least until Benfica play tomorrow, and makes the Dragons – still unbeaten in the league – favourites to lift the title in May.
By Tom Kundert
FC Porto: Casillas, Maxi Pereira, Felipe, Marcano, Diogo Dalot, Herrera, Sérgio Oliveira, Otávio (Corona, 67’), Marega (Diego Reyes, 83’), Gonçalo Paciência (Aboubakar, 71’), Brahimi
Sporting: Rui Patrício, Ristovski (Rúben Ribeiro, 68’), Coates, Mathieu, Coentrão (Montero, 85’), William Carvalho, Battaglia, Bryan Ruiz, Bruno Fernandes, Acuña, Doumbia (Rafael Leão, 44’)
[1-0] Marcano, 29’
[1-1] Rafael Leão, 44’
[2-1] Brahimi, 49’