The Benfica-Porto rivalry is one that needs little introduction in the footballing world. Two of the country’s powerhouses over the past decade, Benfica and Porto have lately gone neck and neck for the Liga title. The fixture between the two is one to behold, and one that Mike Martyns can give us a glimpse into.
It was about time. That night had finally arrived. 61,000 supporters were filling out the stadium and everyone was eagerly waiting for the start of the battle.
Two historic teams with awesome players such as Júlio César, Nicolás Gaitán, Jonas, Iker Casillas, Miguel Layún, Danilo Pereira, André André and the new wonderkid of the Portuguese football, Renato Sanches, were all warmed up and in position. Everything was perfect. Everything was of top-notch quality. The beautiful stadium, the amazing teams, the cheerful spectators, the astonishing atmosphere, the well-kept pitch, the new and best soccer ball ever Adidas Errejota, the stadium wide choreography, the hot “Inferno da Luz” (Luz’s hell).
Referee’s whistle. The match starts.
I felt my heart pumping louder.
I have been lucky enough to have attended many “Clássicos” over the years. But all of them seem special. Each one of them is unique. Benfica was on a good roll of victories and goals scored. FC Porto was down on their confidence.
When a “Clássico” arrives, though, there are no favorites. There is only the moment. There are only those now-or-never 90 minutes. The red eagles started the game with quick and objective plays and it wasn’t late until the first moment of explosion in the stands came.
Renato Sanches -– keep your eyes on this kid -– receives the ball, bursts through the midfield and assists Mitroglou for the goal. Benfica’s supporters jumped in excitement and joy feeling the game was in their hands. Feeling the championship title would become true later in the season. One more goal and Benfica would kill the game off. One great win against FC Porto would boost the team closer to the finish line.
But when everybody was expecting the Dragons to throw in the towel and give up –- following weeks and weeks of heart-felt frustration — they surprisingly reemerge and get back in the fight. That incredible response amazes Benfica’s players and everyone else there, even FC Porto’s supporters themselves. Against all odds, FC Porto ties the match and comes back in the second half with a confidence level greater than Benfica’s.
The Eagles start missing opportunities after opportunities and Iker Casillas decided to show off the skills that led him to be considered one of the World’s best goalkeepers. Aboubakar penetrates Benfica’s box, shoots and scores the second for the Portistas! What an unbelievable comeback! All logical predictions before the match had just gone down the drain along with the rain that kept on falling in Lisbon that evening.
Meanwhile, there was someone on Benfica’s side that just wouldn’t stop fighting. Sanches, the irreverent and fierce midfielder from Seixal Academy kept on chasing every ball like it was the last one ever. FC Porto was forced to use three players just to try and control the 18-year-old beast!! The clock was ticking and the Eagle’s stamina was decreasing as much as their shooting accuracy was getting lower.
In the stands and on the pitch, hope was lost. Benfica could have been there all day long and they wouldn’t score another goal. Casillas was on fire! He was even saving dangerous shots from his own clumsy defenders!
Referee’s whistle. The match ends.
There was this feeling of frustration amongst the majority of the spectators, in the end. FC Porto had deservedly won the “Clássico.” They had been smarter, more prepared and had brought a better suited mentality into the game. Benfica could have won the game, sure. But they had lost it because of their own fault, mostly. Too many missed opportunities. A collective block. A complete lack of inspiration to tackle the hurdles.
They were just not prepared for the Dragons’ response nor was their game approach the most well-thought during the week. And that’s precisely where victories commence. That’s exactly where FC Porto’s win began.