Part II: Primeira Liga 2014/2015 Top 10 Under-24…Outside the “Big Three”

Danilo (left) was superb this season at Maritimo

Danilo (left) was superb this season at Maritimo

Two weeks ago, PortugalFutbol announced Part I of the Primeira Liga’s Top 10 Under 24 from last season. In Part I, we announced who were the honorable mentions, and promised the full list to follow. These are ten of the best under-24 Portuguese players from last season playing outside of the “Big Three.” The data has been gathered and the decisions made. Here’s the list. Continue reading

Primeira Preview & Prediction (PPP) – Round 19

Paulo Fonseca's touchline ban can only hurt Pacos Ferreira's chances against Porto this weekend. Photo: Publico

Paulo Fonseca’s touchline ban can only hurt Pacos Ferreira’s chances against Porto this weekend. Photo: Publico

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. You won’t find a better analysis of last weekend’s Primeira Liga action than Charles Dickens’ introductory sentiment in his classic A Tale of Two Cities. It was as if the Portuguese soccer world turned on its head overnight: All the minnows became giants and all the winners became losers. All, that is, except for the Lions of Lisbon, who were the only top-five team to escape the round with a victory.

Depending on where you pledge your allegiance, you were either thrilled or distraught; no doubt most neutrals loved the results as they blew what was once a foregone conclusion of a title race wide open to a three team race that, if last week’s scores are anything to go by, could go either way down the stretch.

As Portuguese football fans, we were treated to a number of curious results and shock upsets that thoroughly entertained us in one way or another; as Portuguese football prognosticators, however, we were made complete fools of and left to pick up the pieces of our shattered confidence.

My confidence in particular has left the building along with Elvis: I only correctly guessed the winner of one match (Sporting over Academica) and came away from the weekend with an embarrassing 1-8 record. I now have an overall record of 6-12. Yikes. I guess my new approach didn’t pay off huh?

Something tells me I wasn’t the only one cryin’ like a hound dog when it was all over though. I mean, who in their right mind would’ve tipped Vitoria de Guimaraes to drop points at home against last place Gil Vicente, or, Benfica, Porto, AND Braga to lose to the likes of Pacos de Ferreira, Maritimo, and Boavista? It’s insanity I tell ya – insanity!

But, let’s be honest, that’s what makes betting – even just friendly betting with no money involved – fun. Nothing is a sure thing no matter how much we’d like to believe it is, and, it’s the mystery that keeps us engaged.

Speaking of a mystery, who knows how my picks will play out this week? If I have another terrible showing I might just revert to flipping a coin or pulling teams out of a hat to see if my record becomes more respectable. But, for the time being, I’m taking one more chance without literally resorting to chance. Here are my inclinations for the 19th round of play: Continue reading

Primeira Liga Week in Review

Rafa Silva was hugely impressive for Braga against Pacos Ferreira. Photo: Getty Images

Rafa Silva was hugely impressive for Braga against Pacos Ferreira. Photo: Getty Images

It was an exciting weekend in the Primeira Liga, with a lot of movement in the table. Victories from Braga, Porto, Benfica, and Sporting all helped cement their places high up the table, while further losses from Gil Vicente, Nacional, and Vitoria Setubal slipped them further down the table. The match of note this weekend was Braga’s convincing 3-0 victory over the impressive Pacos de Ferreira. Let’s take a look at all the action. Continue reading

Primeira Liga Week in Review

Islam Slimani

Slimani struck twice for Sporting

This weekend saw the return of the Primeira Liga after a three week break. Braga, Sporting, and Porto all claimed large wins, while Vitoria Guimaraes won yet again, propelling the team to second in the table. Elsewhere, Gil Vicente and Penafiel slipped further into the relegation zone with a draw and a loss, respectively.  Continue reading

Primeira Liga Roundup: Round 3

Primeira LigaThe 3rd jornada of the Portuguese League was headlined by the first Classico of the season, but a host of other great contests were on show. FC Porto, Vitoria de Guimaraes and Rio Ave continued to impress with emphatic victories, whilst Braga and Maritimo impressed with solid wins. Mitchell Rua brings you all the action from this week’s Portuguese action with his league round-up.

A false start but three points nonetheless for the Dragons (Porto 3-0 Moreirense)

FC Porto sealed yet another three points, extending their perfect start to their campaign against minnows Moreirense.

Lopetegui continued with his favoured 4-3-3, this time with more attacking zest, foregoing Herrera and Neves’ midfield dynamism, but the Spaniard’s reshuffling did have the desired effect as a torrid open 45 minutes ensued.

Os Tripeiros lacked midfield cohesion, with Oliver and Brahimi, usually employed on the flanks, unwilling to put in a great deal of defensive work as their opposite numbers André Simões and Filipe Melo did the nitty gritty well. Casemiro did little to help matters, earmarking a side without a pure holding midfield as the Brazilian sprayed woeful long balls to little effect.

But after the interval, Porto found their voice. Spaniards Adrián López and José Ángel both impressed as the game grew, with Danilo running rampant on the right. The recent call up to the Seleção must have put a spring in his step as he combined well with Quaresma and Jackson, placing himself in good positions to shoot, with his defensive solidarity on show.

But it was the ever-present Oliver that broke the deadlock at 70 minutes. With the game reaching its climax, Os Dragões began to grow desperate. Brilliant play on the right from Brahimi found a chink in Leal’s defensive armour as the Algerian set up Oliver for a simple finish.

From that point on; Porto never looked like backing down.  Jackson’s intention to stay at the Dragão was met with much applause as the Colombian craque netted a brace. The first came from an error by the reliable Marafona, assisted by José Angel after Oliver dislocated his shoulder upon colliding with the Moreirense shot stopper, ruling him out until late September. The second came minutes after a saved Quintero penalty, with the young Colombian making amends, combining with Adrian and following it up with the assist for Cha Cha Cha.

Lopetegui’s men are yet to concede a goal in competitive competition, breaking the record previously held by the much heralded Andre Villas Boas, with five clean sheets. They now look towards a mouth-watering encounter against one of the form teams of the championship in Guimaraes at the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques next week.

Rio Ave go top as Petit licks his wounds (Rio Ave 4-0 Boavista)

A dark horse for the title race emerged in the Vila do Conde as Rio Ave closed out the round with an empathic victory over As Panteras.

Having guided their passage to the Europa League only four days prior, Pedro Martin’s charges must have still had their minds on the previous nights’ festivities as The Chequered Ones took control of the first 20 minutes. A wake-up call was needed and that came with a shot from Pouga, drawing out the save of the night from Cássio.

From that point, the complexion of the tie changed, swinging in the favour of the home side almost immediately. A lovely curled effort from the deal ball by man-of-the-match Renan Bressan put the Rio Ave freight train into gear at 26 minutes.

Boavista continued to fall as Diego Lopes’ goal followed two minutes later; the visitors going into the break on the cusp of another loss and still yet to score a goal in league play.

The Panthers did not help matters in the second half after centre back Luca Rocha was sent off as the Vila do Condenses were happy to pile on the goals. Perfect combinations and running in the final third, complimented by cohesive ball circulation with the ball painting the turf, underlined a professional performance in evading Petit’s pressing game.

Esmael and Emmanuel Boateng put the icing on the cake in the 80th and 90th minutes respectively. The former, having come off the bench, dispatched an effort into the back of the net from an Ukra ball after fine play on the right. The second came from a header as the Ghanaian revelation scored his first goal for the club, rubbing salt in the wounds of the former powerhouse.

Three games, three wins, eleven goals scored and top of the table! The Northern club now play Moreirense away and welcome Dynamo Kiev to the Vila do Conde. Petit, on the other hand, is left reeling and will look to pick up the pieces after international play: “The break in play will be good to integrate our new players… I’m not happy, I’m disappointed.”

The Arsenalistas back to winning ways as Couceiro remains winless (Braga 2-1 Estoril)

Three of the best was allocated to a contest that started drearily, but ended with 16 000 Minhotos on their feet as Sergio Conceição got his second win for the Arsenalistas after their frustrating draw to Moreirense, leaving Estoril still without a win to their name.

For most of the first-half the match lacked chances and goal mouth action, with Braga showing aggressiveness in playing a high line but had little to show for it as reinstated Alan struggled to make his mark. Instead, it took Pedro Santos to break the ice at the 34th minute with a wonder goal. The diminutive winger nestled the ball in the back of the net with a lovely curled effort with the left boot, bringing the contest to life as Estoril chased the game.

The Lisbon club rarely troubled Kritciuk’s goal until an Emidio Rafael special. The former Porto left-back unleashed a bomb of a free kick, leaving the keeper rooted to his spot only three minutes after the restart.

But no, Braga was going to have the last say on the ‘golaço’ front, as Eder scored the goal of the night only 8 minutes later. Baiano, replacing the injured Goiano, found the Cape-Verdean Seleção striker in the heart of the Estoril penalty box. He took the ball on his chest and majestically dispatched it on the volley, much to the delight of the Braga faithful and Sergio Conceição, securing a deserved win: “We played a game that in the manner that I wanted it to play.”

Set pieces the key as Belenenses force out habits (Belenenses 0-3 Vitoria Guimaraes)

Rui Vitoria’s charges have had the best start imaginable to their league campaign, dispatching their Lisbon adversaries with ease at the Restelo.

Both sides came into the tie level on six points, and a tightly contested tie lived up to its expectations. Earmarked by end-to-end football and chances from the deal ball, both sides wasted opportunities to draw first blood, as Andre Andre rattled the bar early and Rodrigo Dantas wasted a brilliant opportunity one-on-one with Douglas.

Then, things changed. Nii Plange received his marching orders after Fabio Verissimo brandished a red card as Guimaraes argued their case. The same situation had occurred only a week prior to Nacional as Vidigal’s side succumbed to their opponents. Once again this trend persisted, with Os Minhotos reverting to a 4-4-1, leaving Os Lisboetas frustrated and little to show for their numerical advantage.

Miguel Rosa and co. tried their best but old habits persevered as they were decimated from deal ball situations. The set piece was the defining factor in determining the final result, as Matt Jones was only able to evade Defendi’s header, parrying the ball onto the bar only to watch the ball bundled into the back of his net by Andre Andre at 26 minutes.

The Vimaranenses were more than happy to close shop and defend the lead as Belenenses took control of 59% of possession. The Minho club played a conservative game, resting of the laurels and taking their opportunities from set pieces. A corner from Cafú drew another great save from Matt Jones, only for the subsequent corner to seal the win from Tomané’s head.

In the end, Guimaraes was able to expose frailties in Vidigal’s outfit reminiscent of last season, with their inability to take numerical advantages, especially at home, ringing alarm bells. Fredy, Rosa and Deyverson faltered, with keeper Jones ending on a bad note having allowed an Alex free kick past him far too easily in the second half.

On the other hand, Rui Vitoria will be over the moon as Guimaraes won their third consecutive match since the advent of the season, the first time since the 2002/03 where they secured European football.  It may be early to call them title contenders, but the side in black and white look the real deal.

Madeiran delight, Fonseca wins away and a stalemate in Coimbra

After four games without a win, including a two-legged defeat to Dinamo Minsk that ended their European campaign, CD Nacional was able to secure their first win of the season in a solid display against Pedro Emanuel’s Arouca. The Madeirans scored a goal in each half, the first a penalty from Rondon after Nelsinho handled the ball in the area. One-nil up, Nacional grew with the game, evading an Arouca resurgence in the second half as a Marco Matias corner found Suk all alone, finishing strongly and securing the three points after 58 minutes.

Both Paulo Sergio and Domingos Paciência were left rueing missed opportunities after a stalemate at the Estádio EFAPEL.  Académica were very lucky to open the scoring after an own goal from the visiting keeper Lukas Raedar, with a ferocious Marcos Paulo drive bouncing off the German’s back and into his goal. That lead didn’t last long, as responded Venâncio with a header at the second post after a Cristiano corner evaded the keeper. Académica has numerous opportunities thereafter to take all the points but lacked incisiveness in the final third.

Neighbours Penafiel and Paços locked horns, but it was Fonseca’s men that took home their first win of the season, although Ricardo Chéu unlucky not to take at least a point. A solitary Cicero goal ten minutes from time settled the encounter, taking his chance with an instinctive strike from inside the box.

Gil Vicente is still without a win after succumbing to defeat at the hands of Marítimo in Barcelos. Os Galos started the brighter, with Diogo Valente opening the scoring at the 25th minute after a receiving a ball from Avto as his side went into the break with a lead. But the second half was a different story as Marítimo took the game to the Gilistas as Bauer and Maazou scored, leaving Leonel Pontes a happy man.

Primeira Liga Roundup: Round 1

Primeira Liga

The Portuguese league kicked off this past weekend, much to the delight of the followers of the Portuguese game. Here’s the round-up by Mitchell Rua of all the matches played this weekend. 

A Dream Debut (FC Porto 2-0 Marítimo)

FC Porto opened their campaign with a solid display against European hopefuls Marítimo in front of a packed Estádio do Dragão, capped off by goals from teenage debutant Ruben Neves Jackson Martinez.

Neves, the youngest player to start a league match for the Dragões opened the scoring after just 12 minutes, as the young Tripeiro rifled a shot from inside the penalty area past keeper Salin after receiving a deflected cross from the left.

Leonel Ponte’s men tried to respond, with Diego Sousa and Fran Sergio testing Fabiano, but to no avail, as Porto controlled most of the first-half. Oliver Torres was at the heart of each attack, with impressive ball circulation as both Quaresma and Brahimi wreaked havoc on the wings.

The second half brought an improved display as Marítimo’s resolve waned. Jackson began to rise to the occasion, with a couple of half-chances falling his way. Pontes threw on former Guimaraes striker Maazou in the hope of salvaging a point but opportunities were few and far between as the Madeirenses rued missed chances.

It was Lopetegui’s substitutes, Evandro and Tello that brought some much needed attacking penetration. The latter’s jinking run from the right and pass into the path of Cha Cha Cha was converted at the second attempt at the death as Porto got the deserved three points.

Gaitán answers his critics as Benfica break the curse (Benfica 2-0 Paços de Ferreira)

Benfica put in a dominant performance against last year’s bottom dwellers Paços in a match earmarked by the in-from Nicolas Gaitán, breaking a 10 year drought of opening games without a win.

Fonseca’s troops started the better of the two sides, wasting a golden opportunity from the penalty spot as Manuel Joe’s spot kick was saved by Artur with a diving save in potentially his last game for the Águias.

Gaitán found a vein of form sorely missed from his early Benfica days with two assists. The Argentine ran riot as Os Castores undoubtedly rueing missed opportunities as Maxi Pereira and Salvio netted a goal in each half.

The only blip on the Benfica radar came with an injury to combative workhorse Enzo Perez in potentially his last game for the club with the rumour mill in full swing over a potential transfer.

False start for Silva and co. (Académica 1-1 Sporting CP)

Sporting disappointed in their opening tie of the season, dropping two points to The Students. Os Verde-e-Brancos came into the tie having not lost in 36 years in Coimbra, and after Carillo’s header from a fine Jefferson cross it looked as if this trend would continue.

Marco Silva’s side took advantage of an Académica side under renovation, with sixteen departures and a new-look defence accounting for Sporting’s dominance, although the tie had not yet been put to bed after a flurry of opportunities to the visitors.

As the game wore on, Sporting’s stranglehold gradually weakened. Missing Slimani’s presence in the final third due to disciplinary measures, an out-of-touch William, sent off for a second bookable offence, and a Cédric injury opened the door for the home side.

In the end, Académica were able to salvage a point with from a Carrillo error as a last-gasp equaliser from Rafael Lopes sharing the points, much to the delight of the Mancha Negra faithful and coach Paulo Sergio: “There’s merit, but it’s only a point.”

Reality check for the Panthers (Braga 3-0 Boavista)

One of only two clubs outside the ‘Big Three’ to have won the league, Boavista was given a huge wakeup call against the Arsenalistas.

Six years after being demoted to the second division, and subsequently the third tier, Os Axadrezados, and former player, turned coach Petit, have a lot of hard work to do, conceding a goal to Pedro Tiba inside a minute.

History aside, the gulf in class was evident as Ruben Micael and Éder added further misery. A leaner footballing calendar for Sérgio Conceição could spell European football next season and a tilt at the coveted title that alluded them three years prior.

Guimaraes and Belenenses impress as Moreirense surprise

Belenenses and Vitoria Guimaraes both impressed away from home with 3-1 wins. Rui Vitória was “satisfied with the result” as a brace from B team graduate Hernani sandwiched a Bernard strike against Os Galos in Barcelos.

Newly-promoted Penafiel’s frailties were exposed Lito Vidigal’s Belenenses as the Lisbon-side left with three points thanks to goals from Sturgeon, Deyverson and Miguel Rosa, with Joao Martin’s penalty doing little to stop the organised outfit from Belem.

In Vila do Conde, European debutants Rio Ave continued to ride a wave of from after a solid 2-0 victory in a game with three red cards. Pedro Martins’ ten men took the lead through Diego Lopes having gone a man down, with a red card from Setubal’s Zequinha followed by Marcelo’s strike in the 77th minute, putting the game to bed. A late Manu sending off made little difference as Paciência made a poor start in his return to Portuguese football.

The biggest surprise of the round came with victory from Moreirense at the Choupana against Nacional, with Miguel Leal’s side finding the back of the net through substitute Ramon Cardozo. The former Setubal striker is known to have a keen eye for goal and he was the difference in the 80th minute as Machado’s men were left with egg on their face.

Jose Couceiro’s first game in charge of the league’s surprise package over the last couple of seasons, Estoril, ended in a stalemate. Last year’s new boys Arouca opened the scoring through Pintassilgo in the 17th minute, making the most of a Ruben Fernandes error. Estoril quickly responded; the Canarinhos scoring through former GD Chaves striker Kuca. Neither side could settle the tie, Couceiro venting his frustrations: “We created various opportunities on goal, but we paid for our mistakes.”