match reports - 2003/04
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FC Porto 3-0 AS Mónaco (Final of the Champions League)

FC Porto - Vítor Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha; Pedro Mendes, Deco (Pedro Emanuel 84), Maniche, Carlos Alberto (Alenitchev 60), Derlei (McCarthy 78).

AS Mónaco - Roma, Ibarra, Givet (Squillaci 72)), Rodriguez, Evra, Cissé (Nonda 63), Zikos, Bernardi, Rothen, Giuly (Prso 22), Morientes.

Man of the Match: Ricardo Carvalho (FC Porto)

FC Porto rode their luck at times Wednesday but eventually richly deserved their second European Cup (the first was in 1987) and their second European trophy in consecutive seasons (they won the UEFA Cup last time).

FC Porto coach Mourinho predicted an even game, but could not have expected that his side would start so nervously, effectively handing Mónaco control of the first quarter of the game. In fact, as early as two minutes into the game, Mónaco threatened, Giuly put through on goal, but Baía was out well to block with his legs outside the area. This was the first of several key moments. Porto's first shot was on seven minutes, a speculative effort from Deco from outside the box that did not find its way through a jungle of players.

Porto were making an unusually high number of mistakes in midfield, but Mónaco could not capitalise on them, and when it looked like they might cause damage on the break, Porto's defence was looking very disciplined, especially the excellent Carvalho, catching the Mónaco forwards offside time after time. The French were unfortunate in this respect because at least three of the offsides given against them were in fact not, notably when Morientes was put through on the half-hour and would have been one-on-one with Baía. A second key moment.

Then on 39 minutes, a third. Paulo Ferreira took the ball down the right, crossed into the heart of the area, the Mónaco central defenders got into a mess and the ball bobbled up for Carlos Alberto, who hooked it beyond Roma. It could not be said that Porto deserved the lead, but neither were Mónaco impressing.

The second half was much of the same early on, a kind of muddled stalemate, but still with Porto looking in control in defence. Then on 60 minutes, the entry of Alenitchev for Carlos Alberto proved to be the final nail in Mónaco's coffin. Within ten minutes, Porto's midfield was transformed from ragged ineptitude to the smoothly oiled machine that it has been on many occasions this season and last.

On 70 minutes, Alenitchev had a hand in the second goal that gave Porto brerathing space. Prso lost the ball on the edge of the Porto area, and in a superb counter attack involving Costinha, Deco and Alenitchev, Deco received the ball back from the Russian on the edge of the Mónaco area and coolly picked his spot with three defenders and Roma blocking the goal.

It was the signal to run amok, and five minutes later, the game was over, Derlei knocking the ball into the path of Alenitchev, the supersub taking his time and, like Deco, coolly stroking the ball home.

The last 15 minutes were played out with intermittent Mónaco attacks and Porto, whenever possible, holding the ball up, or trying for more breaks. Mourinho brought on McCarthy to freshen up the attack, then Pedro Emanuel to bolster the defence, and Mónaco were as good as finished, despite late chances for Evra and Squillaci.

But it was Porto's night. Long before the end, the huge FCP following were chanting "Campeões, Campeões, nós somos Campeões!" Congatulations to them. Congratulations to a fantastic group of players. And congratualtions to coach Mourinho, who has moulded them into ... well ... the best team in Europe.



Benfica 2 1 FC Porto (Final of Taça de Portugal)

Benfica: Moreira, Armando (Fernando Aguiar 55), Ricardo Rocha, Luisão, Fyssas, Petit, Tiago (Zahovic 79), Miguel, Simão, Nuno Gomes, Sokota (Geovanni 55).

FC Porto: Nuno, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Jorge Costa, Nuno Valente, Costinha (Carlos Alberto 105), Pedro Mendes (Pedro Emanuel 72), Maniche, Deco, Derlei, McCarthy (Maciel 68).

Man of the Match: Deco (FC Porto)

This was a tense and at times bad-tempered Final between old rivals. At the end , Porto coach José Mourinho blamed the referee, Lucilio Baptista - who will be at Euro 2004 - for the defeat, calling his performance "a farse", but if the truth be told, either side could have won the game, with Porto edging it on possession and control, Benfica on clear chances. And while Porto could say that Fernando Aguiar could and should heave been sent off for a cynical foul on Derlei off the ball in the second half, equally Nuno Valente was lucky to stay on after elbowing Geovanni in the face when the winger was about to get past him. And Porto could have no complaints about the one red card of the game, shown on 70 minutes to captain Jorge Costa after two clearly bookable fouls. It is to Porto's credit that that if anything they gained more control after the sending off, but their dominance was not translated into goals, and for that they can blame no one but themselves.

Benfica held sway in the opening stages of the game, with three clear chances in the first twenty minutes from Nuno Gomes (post), Sokota and Miguel (both wide). But the second part of the half belonged to Porto, Deco, at the end of the season, returning to his very best form to dominate proceedings with his close control and immaculate distribution. On 22 he laid the ball off for Maniche to drive against Moreira, on the half hour he himself drove against the post from 25 metres and on 45 his free kick from a good 35 metres out could only be punched out by Moreira, Derlei on hand to beat the Benfica defenders to the rebound and ram the ball home.

Ten minutes into the second half, Derlei it was again who came within a whisker of putting the Taça beyond Benfica's reach, but after a superb run on the left (put through by ... Deco), his toe-poked shot pinged off the near post and away. It was a costly miss because three minutes later, the move of the match saw Greek full-back Fyssas charge upfield, play two one/twos with Simão and Nuno Gomes, round 'keeper Nuno, shoot against Pedro Nunes' body and then have a cool enough head to prod the rebound home. It was 1-1, but smart money would have been on Porto to turn it back around, and they might have done so but for the sending off of Jorge Costa on 70, reducing Porto to ten and removing an influential player. But even in numerical inferiority, their organisation was superb, and the took the last twenty on points, and even had three more chances to win, through Derlei, Maciel and Maniche, but the chances came to nothing.

And so to extra-time, and if Porto had struck at a killer point in regular time, Benfica returned the favour now, Zahovic, on as sub, proving vital as he seemed to lose ground at the far post but pulled 'keeper Nuno out of position, turned and crossed. Paulo Ferreira's half-clearance looped to Benfica captain Simão Sabrosa who headed back into the empty goal.

The last 15 was mainly Porto, but their play was looking increasingly desperate, and in the last chance of the game, even 'keeper Nuno was up as Deco sent his free-kick sailing over the bar. Benfica had won their first trophy in eight years.


Déportivo La Coruña 0-1 FC Porto (CL Semi-final, second leg)

Déportivo La Coruña: Molina, Pablo, César, Naybet (red 70), Romero, Sérgio (Tristan 66), Duscher, Vítor (Scaloni 54), Valerón, Luque (Fran 72), Pandiani

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Pedro Mendes (Bosingwa 87), Maniche, Deco, Carlos Alberto (Pedro Emanuel 68), Derlei (McCarthy 92)

Man of the Match: Deco (FC Porto)

FC Porto produced a near perfect performance Tuesday to dampen a whole region's enthusiasm, to suffocate the immensely difficult Deportivo and to go through to the final of the Champions League.

José Mourinho surprisingly brought striker Derlei back into the starting line-up at the expense of McCarthy, surprisingly because the Ninja has only just come back after prolonged and serious injury, but it proved a master stroke. The Brazilian forward ran and ran, as if he hadn't been out at all. And it was he who got the winner on the hour, stroking a penalty low and beyond the right hand of the seemingly invincible Molina.

The first half was a story of swings and roundabouts, both sides enjoying spells of dominance. Porto were first, then Depor, then Porto ... but it was Porto who were creating most pressure on the opposing goal, Maniche twice and Deco both having chances but failing. On balance it was Porto, though, who were looking the side most likely to, their normal pressing game allied to a generally rock-solid back line (only Luque was making inroads on the left against Paulo Ferreira), flowing counter-attacks and in Deco, back on his best form, a veritable mastermind in midfield. Deportivo were giving as good as they got in midfield, but Porto weren't letting them settle, and their play had at times a rather desperate feel to it, possibly not helped by the pressure from a throbbing home crowd and having the hopes of an entire region weighing on their shoulders.

Paradoxically, however, it was Depor that had the best chance of the half, Valeron on 36 minutes finding himself on his own in front of goal as Porto's offside trap failed to work for once, but the striker, possibly feeling that he was in an offside position, was much too casual with his volley and it sailed wide. The last minutes belonged to depor, but without really worrying Porto.

The second half was barely a minute old when a curling cross from Deco on the right found Derlei at the back post, and his diving header crashed against the post and out. The same player was put through on goal by a lovely pass from deep by Pedro Mendes just five minutes later, but César blocked the Brazilian's progress well. César was looking for a hole to hide in on 58 minutes, however, as the irrepressible Deco pushed the ball past him to the left of goal and was pulled down. Referee Collina was right behind and pointed immediately to the spot. Derlei's penalty, as it was an away goal, effectively put Porto two-up on the night, and Depor fans were already weeping on the terraces, sensing that this Porto was just too strong for their side.

Depor woke up momentarily after the penalty and might have equalised with a lovely glancing header by Pandiani that just cleared Baía's post, but on 70 minutes, their fans had a further reason to weep: Naybet, already on a yellow, stopped Paulo Ferreira on a run down the right and saw a red card. If Depor's task was hard, it became virtually impossible as their game began to come apart and Porto began to reassert themselves. Tristan had a couple of chances late in the game, but Porto were coasting, keeping possession and keeping organised, while Depor's game plan turned to long balls that were never going to worry the excellent duo of Jorge Costa and Ricardo Carvalho, reinforced for the last twenty minutes by stalwart Pedro Emanuel.

It was one of Porto's best displays of the season, turned on at just the right time. And not enough praise can be heaped on coach José Mourinho. He has shaped a powerful team out of a group of players that might be quite ordinary in another coach's hands. And Porto can go into the final with all the confidence in the world, whoever their opponents will be.



Portugal 1-2 Italy (Friendly)

Portugal: Ricardo, Paulo Ferreira, Fernando Couto, Jorge Andrade, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Tiago, Rui Costa, Simão, Figo, Pauleta (also: Ricardo Carvalho, Beto, Boa Morte, Deco, Nuno Gomes, Miguel, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hélder Postiga)

Italy: Buffon, Panucci, Adani, Ferrari, Pancaro, Fiore, Gattuso, Pirlo, Totti, Nervo, Vieri (also: Oddo, Favalli, Ambrosini, Perrotta, Camoranesi, Birindelli, Miccoli, Corradi)

Man of the Match: Totti (Italy)

Before this friendly, Portugal's coach Felipe Scolari had said he was more concerned with whether his team put in a good performance than with the result. He will be very diasappointed on both counts.

Portugal came out strongly, clearly dominating the first quarter of an hour. But there was the age-old doubt - how much of this was permitted by an Italian side who have been there, done that? Nevertheless, it was in this short period of refreshing Portuguese superiority that the Selecção took the lead: left back Nuno Valente cut into the penalty area, did a one-two with Rui Costa (brilliant in the early stages) and placed a perfect shot past the oncoming Buffon. Pauleta had two subsequent chances on seven and nine minutes, but put the ball wide both times. For some reason, though, and it wasn't only because Italy reacted, Portugal handed the reins to Italy after about the twentieth minute; the Azzurri didn't need to be invited twice and just grew and grew. Totti and Pancaro both came close near the half-hour, and Italy came their closest to scoring on 38 with a snap shot from Totti that drifted just wide.

It was an augury of things soon to come, and came they did a minute later and in an exasperating way for a Portuguese side that has been caught the same way more than once in the past: Italy were awarded a free-kick wide of the goal on the right, and while the Portuguese defence were calmly organising themselves and Ricardo had even momentarily turned his back on play (!), Totti whipped the free kick over to the back post where Vieri simply lumbered in, steam-rollered Paulo Ferreira out of the way and headed in. The Portuguese were incensed, and Couto might well have been sent off for manhandling the referee (shades of Korea!), but for no reason; they were themselves to blame for relaxing at a crucial moment.

The rest of the game belonged to a composed and organised Italian side who made Portugal look like a very poor team indeed. Portugal did revive briefly in the middle of the second half with the entry of Ronaldo, Deco and Postiga, the best of a bunch of subs, but it was a burst rather than a sustained recovery, and a quarter of an hour from the end it was all over; the excellent sub Miccoli curled a harmless-looking corner towards the near post from the left, and under no pressure at all, Boa Morte and Ricardo conspired to let the ball sneak inside the post. The nearest Portugal came to dragging the game back was a long-range Beto effort on 88 that Buffon had to get down to stop, and a clear chance that fell to Nuno Gomes well into added time, but the Benfica striker wanted allthe time in the world, and Italian defences don't give you that; the shot was blocked.

But perhaps it was a good thing in the medium term for Portugal to lose this game. It may be a wake-up call for Scolari and the players: must do (very much) better if they are not to disappoint a nation come the summer. The truth is that Portugal have some fine players, but with 14 games under his belt, Scolari has blatantly failed to produce a model of play, relying rather on the talent to win the day. And against teams like Italy, this is far from enough.



Inter Milan 4-3 Benfica (UEFA Cup Last 16)

Inter Milan: Toldo, Córdoba Adani, Gamarra, Zanetti, Lomouchi, Okan (Recoba), Gonzalez, Karagounis (Brechet), Martins, Vieri.

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Luisão, Ricardo Rocha, Armando, Petit (Geovanni), Tiago, Zahovic (Sokota), Simão, João Pereira (Manuel Fernandes), Nuno Gomes

Man of the Match: Recoba (Inter)

Benfica had, as they say here, the bird in the hand, but they let it fly away, in Thursday's thrilling UEFA Cup clincher with Inter Milan. The first leg at the Luz had ended in a 0-0 draw, so Benfica went into the away leg slightly the underdogs.

But you wouldn't have thought so with the way they played in the first half, all composure and lack of any hoots at all for Inter's history and theoretical advantage. The Lisbon side had the majority of possession and chances, but only went in front on 35 minutes, Nuno Gomes driving low from outside the area and beating Toldo's right hand. A few minutes later, the same Nuno Gomes hit the post; it was the first of several turning points in this freak of a game. The next came on the stroke of half-time. Benfica had only to manage their lead and they would go into the break with a massive psychological advantage. It was beyond them; Karougonis beat four to the left of the goal and handed Martins the equaliser on a silver platter.

The second half saw a different Inter, much tighter at the back and more determined in midfield. And half-time had done Benfica no favours; from being in complete control in the first half, they reverted to the whimper of a team that Benfiquistas have had to endure for the last decade. Another turning point was the entrance of Recoba for Okan on the hour. He took only a minute to put Inter 2-1 up. Four minutes later, he slung a cross over to Vieri, who took advantage of an ingenuous slip by Miguel to control the ball on his chest and rifle a volley home. 

One thing about this Benfica team recently is that they never say die, and so it was that on 66 minutes Nuno Gomes got his second, ramming home a loose ball at the back post after Sokota had dragged the Inter defence to the near post for a Simão cross. But Recoba was bewitched, and on 69 he passed for Martins to score his second and regain the two goal advantage.

Benfica never said die again, and this time Tiago it was who did a one-two with Sokota on 76 minutes to place his shot wide of Toldo's left hand but inside the post. Benfica had to endure yet another turning point on 80 minutes when Toldo, jumping for a cross, deliberately kicked Sokota on the way down. Benfica claimed, rightly, a penalty and red card ... but nothing happened, and the remaining time was eked out by an Inter side who knew they had been through the mill. For Benfica, a feeling that they had worked hard, but that they had not done themselves justice, both in terms of failure in the first leg to transform their dominance into goals, and failure in the second leg to capitalise on a superb first half performance and a one-goal lead.



FC Porto 1-0 Boavista (SuperLiga Day 26)

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Pedro Emanuel, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche, Ricardo Fernandes (Deco), Sérgio Conceição (Carlos Alberto), Maciel (Jankauskas), Benni McCarthy

Boavista: William, Filipe Anunciação, Ricardo Silva, Éder, Mário Loja, Raul Meireles (Fréchaut), André, Martelinho (Duda), Ali (Luíz Claudio), Ricardo Sousa Cafú

Man of the Match: Benni McCarthy (FC Porto)

FC Porto were coming off the back of the exhilarating midweek win over Manchester United, Boavista had a 'new' coach. There were 42,000 at the Estádio do Dragão. The scene was set for a classic local derby. But as so often happens between these two teams, dourness was the name of the game, and it rarely rose above the slightly interesting.

Jaime Pacheco appeared to have an immediate affect on his return to his beloved Boavista; the side was much more compact and single-minded, at least in the first half. A tactical coup was the inclusion of Martelinho and Ali on either wing, closing down possible advances from full-backs Paulo Ferreira and Nuno Valente. In the centre of midfield, he brought back young Raul Meireles to accompany André, and these two cancelled out Porto's central midfield well, starting with Ricardo Fernandes in the place of Deco, rested but on the bench. Boavista were back to their old pressing game, winning a lot of midfield ball and forcing many errors from an under-par Porto. When Porto did break through, or had one of their six first-half corners, William in the Boavista goal was up to the task, especially beating McCarthy to a through ball on the half-hour and turning a shot from the South African round the post five minutes from half-time. Meanwhile, Boavista were dangerous on the break, notably through Ricardo Sousa, whose shot beat the on-coming Baia on 41 minutes but drifted wide of the post.

The second half was a different story as Porto brought out their big guns. Deco came on for the ineffectual Ricardo Fernandes, and Carlos Alberto for Sérgio Conceição. Porto and the game were transformed. Boavista were suddenly reeling and began to look scrappy, whereas in the first half they had looked in perfect control of proceedings. From dead ball situations, Deco twice offered Paulo Ferreira chances but the full-back's headers came to nothing. Then on 72 minutes, a text-book free-kick, Deco clipping the ball low from the right to the edge of the box and McCarthy beating his marker to drive inside William's near post. It was a move that Mourinho later attributed to Benfica's Camacho, and it was enough to maintain Porto's home record of 29 straight wins.



Manchester United 1-1 FC Porto (Champions League Last 16)

Manchester United: Howard, P. Neville, Brown, G. Neville, O'Shea, Butt, Djemba Djemba (Saha), Fletcher (Cristiano Ronaldo/Solskjaer), Giggs, Scholes, Nistelrooy

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa (Pedro Emanuel), Ricardo Carvalho, Costinha, Maniche, Alenitchev (Ricardo Fernandes), Deco, Carlos Alberto (Jankauskas), McCarthy

Man of the Match: Ricardo Carvalho (FC Porto)

After a terrific display in the first leg at the Estádio do Dragão, where they should have killed the tie stone dead such was their dominance, FC Porto started in the return a little tremulous, exemplified best by a headed back pass from Costinha on 23 minutes that found only Nistelrooy. Baía was luckily quick off his line to muffle that chance, but it was one way traffic on the Porto goal, Manchester aware of their need for at least one goal. Porto seemed daunted by the occasion, giving away far too much ball and one of their key players, Deco, well marked by Butt and out of touch throughout. Then on the half hour, what Porto most feared happened: O'Shea went gambolling down the left, beat Paulo Ferreira rather too easily and crossed for Scholes to meet the ball, unchallenged, at the near post and head past a helpless Baía.

Paradoxically, the goal seemed to wake Porto up, and they began to look more confident on the ball and to construct their first coherent approach play of the night. But the problems of the first leg for Porto were also the problems of this: when they had the chances, they fluffed them. On 38 minutes, Djemba Djemba skewed a clearance and the ball fell to Carlos Alberto to the right of the goal. If it had been McCarthy, he might have planted it, but the Brazilian youngster shot straight at the legs of Howard, of fhis line, and Maniche blasted the rebound well over. Then on the stroke of half time, Porto had an immense slice of luck; Nistelrooy shot, the ball hit a Porto defender, was deflected into the path of Scholes and the diminutive carrot-top stroked the ball in. A good goal ... but the ref blew up for an inexistent off-side. Porto breathed a sigh of relief and went into the break knowing that a positive result was still within reach.

In fact the game was deliciously poised: Porto could afford to let Manchester score another goal, and would still only need one goal to return to even stevens.on aggregate. Manchester preferred to sit back on their lead - possession was 60/40 in Porto's favour - and this choice was to be their downfall. Traffic was going the other way in the second half, with United defending stoutly. Porto were often reduced to launching high balls in the area, more effective with the entrance midway through the half of the giant Jankauskas. But once again, whenever Porto had the goal in their sights, their finishing was found wanting, notably with two shots from Alenitchev, one blocked, the other over. United had a supreme chance to extend their lead on 68 minutes when Giggs and Scholes worked a chance for Nistelrooy, but the Dutchman, having an off-night, dwelt too long on the ball and it was cleared. Then, a minute from time, the moment Porto fans were waiting for and United should have legislated for: Jankauskas was fouled a few metres outside the box to the left, McCarthy dipped his free-kick towards the right post, Howard couldn't hold it and Costinha, with yet another vital goal for his club, was on hand to ram the ball home.

There were three minutes of added time, during which Nuno Valente had to clear off his line as Manchester threw everything at the Porto goal, but Lady Luck was smiling on Porto tonight and they hung on for a famous aggregate victory. But let there be no mistake: for all his attempts at psychological warfare before both games, Ferguson and his team had no answer for FC Porto's cool, calm, effective football, and the Portuguese team were well worth the overall victory. And all the rest, as they say here, é só conversa ("is just conversation").



Rosenborg 2-1 Benfica (UEFA Cup, Third Round)

Rosenborg: Espen Johnsen, Basma, Riseth, Hoftun, Stensaas, Frode Johnsen, Berg, Winsnes (Solli, 71 m), Storflor (Enerly, 65 m), Karadas, Brattbakk.

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Ricardo Rocha, Luisão, Cristiano (Armando, 82 m), Petit, Tiago, João Pereira (Hélder, 46 m), Zahovic (Fernando Aguiar, 61 m), Simão, Nuno Gomes (Red).

Man of the Match: Moreira (Benfica)

It all started pear-shaped for the Águias, who came into this game an unconvincing 1-0 up from the first leg. Within a quarter of an hour, memories of an infamous 7-0 defeat a few seasons ago at Celta de Vigo will have been flashing through benfiquistas' minds as their team went 2-0 down, the defence resembling a colander with more holes than a colander normally has. Berg had time to pick his spot and poke home the first on eight minutes, and Karadas (first name Azar, which means 'bad luck' in Portuguese) rose above the giant Luisão to head home the second on 15.

But to their credit, Benfica reacted well, keeping their collective head and taking the game back to the Norwegians. And on 20 minutes, they got the all-important away goal through Nuno Gomes, calmly tucking the ball away in a one-on-one with Johnsen. But Nuno Gomes blotted his copy book and jeopardised the team's fortunes just before the break when he was put though on goal, rounded the ´keeper but preferred to tumble (with the intention of getting a penalty and a red card for Johnsen) rather than scoring, which would have put Benfica firmly in the driving seat. He got a second yellow for the dive and they were running a bath for him before he left the pitch.

The whole of the second half, then, was played with Benfica a man down, and most of the half was spent desperately defending the aggregate lead. But it must be said that they defended it admirably, especially young 'keeper Moreira, who made at least three impossible saves to keep Benfica in it. In midfield, Petit was, as they say "grande", as is habitual recently, and the substitutions by Camacho of João Pereira (ineffectual) for Hélder and Zahovic (a good first half, but fading) for Fernando Aguiar proved vital.

By the end, Benfica were defending their goal with tooth and nail, but on the break could even have drawn level on the night, the irrepressible Miguel forcing a good save from Johnsen. But the Portuguese side rode their luck and scraped through, thanks to a couple of superb performances and an heroic collective display.



FC Porto 2-1 Manchester United (Champions League Last 16, First Leg)

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Pedro Mendes, Maniche, Alenitchev (Jankauskas), Deco, Carlos Alberto (Ricardo Fernandes), Benni McCarthy (Bruno Moraes).

Manchester United: Howard, P. Neville (O'Shea), G. Neville, Brown, Fortune, Butt, Keane (Red), Scholes, Giggs, Saha (Ronaldo), Nistelrooy

Man of the Match: Benni McCarthy

Before this game, Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson had said that FC Porto must buy its Portuguese titles at Tesco's. If you had asked him after the game where he thought Porto had bought tonight's performance, in all honesty he would have had to say Fortnum and Mason's. Porto were absolutely superb in all departments and throughout 90 minutes. In fact, Manchester United looked very much like the mid-table Portuguese teams that Ferguson was obviously alluding to, and secretly all from Manchester will be extremely relieved that they came away with only a 1-2 defeat, a result that leaves the tie open ... but not so open if the two teams repeat tonight's respective displays.

Porto were at Manchester United from the off, especially down the right where wing-back Paulo Ferreira was being very incisive, in the absence of any orthodox winger. Then out of the blue, and against the early run of play, Manchester United scored on 13 minutes. Porto captain Jorge Costa pulled Nistelrooy back near the area, Keane touched the free to Scholes and he drove the ball through the wall and against the blocking body of Vítor Baía. Porto lost concentration for just about the only time in the game and it proved lethal, Fortune following up to ram the ball home.

A Porto team from two or three years ago might have folded at this point, but coach José Mourinho has fostered such a strong feeling of solidarity amongst the players that within minutes they were re-composed and hitting back. Apart from a good chance that fell to Nistelrooy on 16, most of the other opportunities were falling to Porto, and but for some naïvety, greediness and bad luck, Porto could have amassed an historic scoreline here. But it was Benni McCarthy who dragged the scoreline back to something more just on 28 minutes. Nineteen-year-old Brazilian sensation Carlos Alberto and Alenitchev worked some space on the right and the Russian hooked a cross in for McCarthy to swivel and hit first time, low and beyond Howard's left hand. More chances came the way of McCarthy, Nuno Valente and Alenitchev before the break, but the last chance of the half was Saha's header over, as if to warn Porto that although the English team looked stunned, they still had venom.

The second half was a reliable reflection of the first, with Porto's midfield dominating proceedings, Porto's defence either holdig up the Manchester United forward line or catching them offside with ease, and Porto's attacking midfield and forwards creating chance after chance.

Carlos Alberto was a major headache for Manchester United with his unpredictable runs and short bursts of dribbling, although he was at times a little greedy (but what a prospect!). He had a couple of clear chances in the second half; one of them, a header at the back post, would have been a goal if it had been McCarthy there.

Porto made a series of changes midway throught he half, and it must be said that they lost a little steam at this point ... but there was still only one team in it. Manchester United seemed transfixed - surely this could not have been a strategy? Anyway, some degree of justice was meted out when on 77 minutes, Nuno Valente hoisted what looked like a hopeful cross goalwards from deep on the left and Benni McCarthy rose between Brown and Gary Neville to crash a header into the top left-hand corner. Manchester United's 'best' chance was a free-kick from the left from sub Cristiano Ronaldo that Baía saved easily, and a through ball from Ronaldo that Baía again gathered, but Keane stomped him as he passed. It was a typically irresponsible gesture from a player obviously frustrated by the lack of conviction of his side. He saw a red card and will take no further part in the tie.

So Porto have to go to Manchester to defend a single-goal lead. It's a great shame - they could and should have killed the tie at the Estádio do Dragão, but they conceded a goal at home, and that could be costly. They will now be hoping for a similarly convincing performance at Old Trafford. Looking at the game tonight, there really is no doubt that an aggregate win is on the cards for Porto.


Benfica 1-1 FC Porto (SuperLiga, Day 22)

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Argel, Ricardo Rocha, Armando, Petit (Fernando Aguiar, 89), Tiago, Zahovic, Geovani (João Pereira, 76), Simão, Sokota (Nuno Gomes, 73)

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Pedro Mendes, Maniche, Deco (Carlos Alberto, 84), Maciel (Bosingwa, 88), McCarthy (Jankauskas, 70)

Man of the Match: Miguel (Benfica)

A clássico by name only. This was a game of two distinct halves: the first, in which play was mainly squashed into the middle third of the pitch and littered with misplaced passes and two-left-feet efforts in front of goal; and the second, in which Benfica dominated and should have won but for an aversion to hitting the target.

The first part of the first half was full of nothing much more than huff and puff. It was 19 minutes before either side got near the other goal, and it was Benfica who got there first, but Tiago fell over his own bootlaces after a cross from the left by Simão. But Benfica were at least looking composed on the ball bringing it forward, and Sokota was looking sharp as a target man, as was winger Geovani on his return from injury. Porto got the nearest to scoring on the half hour, so near that they actually did score. Deco swept a corner in from the right and an unmarked Costinha got a typical headed goal. Porto had a couple of good chances before the break, squandered by Deco and Maciel, but the best move of the half was started in defence by an inspired Miguel and finished by his cross from the opposite wing. It deserved better than to finish in the arms of Baía.

Benfica came out for the second half with guns-a-blazing and took just 20 seconds to get a shot in, Simão firing over, and two minutes later, Geovani pinged a ball off the bar. Then on 50 minutes, Miguel once again broke from defence, fed Geovani and his cross-field ball found Simão, who cut square in from the left and lifted the ball into the top right-hand corner with Baía helpless. Benfica had some prime opportunities to finish the game off after that, with FC Porto looking a little dazed; Ricardo Rocha missed his shot altogether at the back post from a Petit free, Sokota laid off to Zahovic who had time to pick his spot and picked one that was wide of the post, and Petit was through on goal but shot straight at the oncoming Baía. FC Porto had a couple of half-chances up the other end, notably through Pedro Mendes and Jankauskas, but both hit the side netting. And so it ended, as probably has any other club catching FC Porto now, unbeaten in 22 games. It's the form of champions; even playing below par, they're getting results.



Sporting 1-1 FC Porto (SuperLiga, Day 20)

Sporting: Ricardo, Miguel Garcia (Sá Pinto 65) Beto, Anderson Polga, Rui Jorge, Custódio, Rochemback, Pedro Barbosa, João Pinto (Carlos Martins 70), Liedson, Silva (Niculae 50)

FC Porto: Vítor Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Pedro mendes, Maniche (Alenitchev 90), Deco, Maciel (Sérgio Conceição 74)McCarthy (Jankauskas 70)

Man of the Match: Liedson (Sporting)

Sporting missed a prime opportunity Saturday to cut Porto's lead at the top to two points. They dominated for long spells, had most possession and the best chances. But Porto's resilience, nous and good fortune kept them unbeaten this season; at this rate, it's difficut to think of a team that is going to ruin that record.

Sporting started the stronger of the two, and as early as the second minute, Rochemback had hit the side netting. But on five, Ricardo was forced to fist away a free kick and then a corner. This set the tone for the game: a momentous struggle to gain control of the midfield, but the result hinging on set pieces. And so it was on eight minutes that Deco floated a tantalising free-kick in from the right which eluded everyone except captain Jorge Costa, lurking at the back post, and his header put Porto in front.

The best chances were falling to Sporting. On 25, Pedro Barbosa, once again with an outstanding display, floated a free-kick, like Deco's, to the back post, but Anderson Polga was not as precise with his header as Jorge Costa at the other end. Sporting were proving more penetrative, getting to the line on both wings, and ten minutes later, Pedro Barbosa once again shimmied down the left, left Jorge Costa for dead and crossed for Silva to head over.

On 37 minutes, Sporting's fans (42,000 of them), thought they were back in it. The Brazilian striker Liedson, a nuisance throughout the game for the Porto defence, hared onto a through ball, took it past Baía and was brought down. Baía got a yellow but it could have been a different colour. Rochemback stepped up and ... blasted the spot kick against the bar and over.

Despite the deficit, Sporting coach Fernando Santos would not have gone into the break unhappy; his team were playing good, controlled, constructive football, and were stopping Porto from expressing themselves as is their habit.

But the second half was a different story, Sporting looking much scrappier and Porto were not really rising to the bait. On 50, Fernando Santos brought on the fans' favourite, the Romanian striker Mariusz Niculae for Silva and they began to have more steel up front, but they were still not creating many chances, although Polga once again missed a header at the back post on 58, from a free by Rochemback. Porto were also relying on set pieces, Deco forcing a difficult save from Ricardo from a direct corner, then gifting Ricardo Carvalho a great chance from a free-kick, but the Sporting 'keeper Ricardo was equal to it.

Twenty minutes from the end, Liedson once again forced a penalty, fouled by Paulo Ferreira as he sprinted onto a through ball on the left. Pedro Barbosa took over from Rochemback to take the kick, Baía guessed the right way to dive, but the force of the strike carried the ball off the 'keeper's body and into the roof of the net.

For the final twenty minutes, Sporting played with their hearts rather than their heads, while Porto did the opposite and managed to hang on to a draw that will prove invaluable for their title aspirations. They could have snatched a win with a couple of individual efforts from Deco, but in the final analysis, they will be more than happy with the draw.



Benfica 3-2 Boavista (SuperLiga, Day 18)

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Argel, Ricardo Rocha, Fyssas, Petit, Tiago, João Perreira (Alex 88), Simão (Andersson 90), Sokota (Féher 81), Nuno Gomes

Boavista: William, Rui Oscar (Red 47), Paulo Turra, Éder, Viveros, Mário Loja (Luiz Claudio 78), Filipe Anunciação, Raul Meireles (Pedro santos 75), Ricardo Sousa, Ali (Martelinho 49, Red 85), Cafu

Man of the Match: Sokota (Benfica)

Benfica just about deserved to win this ill-tempered affair, although they were helped by an over-officious referee who reduced Boavista to ten on 47 minutes (Rui Oscar) and nine on 85 (Martelinho) for relatively inoffensive infractions.

It was always going to be a bit of a battle in midfield, Boavista being the tough-nut team they are, and when the first shot took seven minutes to arrive (Raul Meireles wide from distance), it looked like it might be a slogged-out draw. But on eight minutes a flurry of activity: Viveros, not a striker, headed a good chance lamely over at the back post, and at the other end, William couldn't hold Nuno Gomes' shot and Tiago was following up but poked it wide. Then on 18 minutes, Benfica struck the first blow. Full-back Rui Oscar was caught out of position, Paulo Turra was forced wide to challenge Simão, Simão skinned him and bent in a fine cross for Sokota to arrive where Turra should have been for the simplest of headers. On 25 it was two. Former Boavista stalwart Petit had no compassion and looped a free-kick from wide on the left to the back post for unmarked central defender Argel to ghost in and head, once again simply, home.

Boavista will need to stay behind after class to work out what was happening for those two goals, but the old never-say-die spirit lives on under Sanchez, and they came back strongly and swiftly. Just three minutes after Argel's goal, Ricardo Sousa swung in a trademark free-kick that Moreira saw too late, and it was 2-1. Ten minutes after that, Ricardo Sousa it was again who combined with Ali from a corner on the right and curled a delightful cross in for Filipe Anunciação to glance an exquisite header inside the far post.

At 2-2, the stage was set for a rousing second half, but two minutes into it, Rui Oscar was sent off for what looked like a clumsy but not intentional elbow on Fyssas. It knocked the stuffing out of Boavista, and Benfica were soon capitalising on the sudden shakiness of Boavista's resistance, João Perreira putting Nuno Gomes through on goal on 50 but William saving with his legs. Boavista's responses were now looking a little desperate, Cafu running the length of the pitch on his own to be ultimately foiled by Ricardo Rocha, and Benfica were looking the more together side. Their pressure told on 67 minutes when Miguel lofted a cross from the right to the back post, Nuno Gomes headed back across goal and Sokota swivelled to crash the ball past William. The game was up and Boavista's hopes were dampened still further on 85 when Martelinho, who had come on as sub on 50, was sent off for an innocuous foul on Simão. The rest of the game was taken up with Boavista trying to get free-kicks in front of goal for Ricardo Sousa to have another poke, but neither Benfica nor the referee were having any of it.




Benfica 1-3 Sporting (SuperLiga, Day 16)

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel (red card, 64), Luisão, Hélder, Ricardo Rocha (red card, 92), Fernando Aguiar (Petit 45), Tiago, Zahovic (João Perreira, 45), Simão, Nuno Gomes, Sokota (Roger, 67)

Sporting: Ricardo, Miguel Garcia, Anderson Polga, Beto, Rui Jorge, Custódio, Rochemback (red card, 42), Pedro Barbosa (Paulo Bento, 86), João Pinto (Lourenço, 69), Silva (Sá Pinto, 60), Liedson

Man of the Match: Pedro Barbosa, Sporting

Benfica's first game in their centenary year couldn't have gone much worse. There were fireworks before kick-off against their eternal local rivals Sporting, but they were premature. While Benfica seemed initially in awe of the occasion (the first local derby at the new Luz in front of over 60,000), Sporting were the model of composure, and their first ten minutes were highly influential in terms of the game as a whole. They took the game to Benfica and their neat close passing and solid structure was a reflection of their higher position in the table, while Benfica, early on at least, were playing more with their hearts than their heads.

Sporting had only to wait until the seventh minute to open the scoring. Benfica gave the ball away at a throw-in on the left, it fell for the lively João Pinto and his through ball to Silva was touched past Moreira who brought down the Brazilian striker. Moreira got a yellow, Rochemback got the spot kick, sending the young Benfica ´keeper the wrong way.

Sporting had struck first and took their foot off the pedal, letting Benfica build. The home side created several chances in the next 20 minutes or so, including headers from Tiago (over) and Fernando Aguiar (wide) and a high shot from Sokota after a neat lay-off from Nuno Gomes. On 23 minutes, they came closest to scoring with a dangerous free-kick from Simão, but Ricardo was up to it, palming the ball wide. Then on 35 minutes, and against the run of play, Sporting extended their lead. Pedro Barbosa chased a long ball to the line on the left, Hélder put in a lazy challenge and Barbosa managed to get in his cross, Silva heading firmly home.

Sporting's 3,000 fans were momentarily able to silence the Benfica hordes, stunned by the reverse. Their team were not stunned, though, and the last ten minutes of the first half belonged to the Eagles. On 40 minutes, Nuno Gomes put Sokota through but his shot was stopped by the feet of Ricardo. A minute later, a free wide on the left, taken by Zahovic, was stopped on the line by the same Ricardo. Then on 42, Rochemback, who had returned from Brazilian national team duty to play in the derby, was sent off for a second bad foul. The second half was set up to be a tense affair.

In fact, the quality of play went downhill after the break, a numerically dis- advantaged Sporting perhaps understandably risking less, and Benfica unable to create consistently coherent play. Their best chances early on were down to errors by Sporting's saviour in the first half, Ricardo. He dropped a Simão cross on 50 minutes and was all at sea two minutes later as Petit's long free-kick to the back post was headed back across goal by Ricardo Rocha for centre back Luisão to head tamely in.

Benfica were back in it, but their case was weakened when the short-tempered Miguel was sent off on 64 after a second yellow, this time for a foul on João Pinto. Nuno Gomes and Simão were foiled by Ricardo as Benfica piled on the pressure, but on the break, Sporting were also dangerous, the tricky Liedson twice coming close, shooting first wide and then high.

Benfica had hopes of at least a point until the 92nd minutes, when Liedson again was through but was clattered to the ground by Ricardo Rocha, who saw a red card for a second yellow. Sub Sá Pinto, relishing the derby atmosphere in a rare appearance, crashed an unstoppable penalty into the top right hand corner, and the game was over.

Sporting had proved they had the nerve and the nous to take on a Benfica side who were asleep early on and awoke only to go at it with more guts than brains. The result leaves Benfica four points behind Sporting in the chase of FC Porto at the top.



Boavista 0-1 FC Porto (SuperLiga, Day 9)

Boavista: William, Rui Oscar, Paulo Turra, Éder, Viveros, Filipe Anunciação, André (Calvino), Raul Meireles, Ricardo Sousa, Duda (Martelinho), Fary (Luiz Claudio)

FC Porto: Baía, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche (Bosingwa), Deco, Marco Ferreira (Alenichev), Jankauskas (McCarthy)

Man of the Match: Filipe Anunciação

Boavista sweated, toiled and moiled Monday to get the better of title favourites FC Porto, and they were very unlucky not to get at least a draw from their efforts. They dominated the first half with their pressing, but this time it could produce no goals. Or rather, it did produce one, and a very fine goal it was, Fary finding space on the right to latch onto a long ball from Meireles and crossing low for Duda to slot in past Baía ... but the goal was disallowed for an offside that did not exist called on Duda, who was behind the ball when it was passed. Boavista continued to dominate, however, with Filipe Anunciação controlling the Porto maestro Deco, and Porto had only three half chances throughout the whole of the first half, two of which fell to Derlei, the second chance, a shot on the turn, coming the closest.

In the second half, Porto turned it around and were by far the more coherent team, although this was not converted into clear chances. But their substitutions were by far the more effective, and it was sub Alenitchev who got the winner, stroking in a square pass from Derlei on the break. Boavista complained that the move had begun with a foul on Filipe Anunciação by the same Alenitchev, but to no avail. Porto were to complain three minutes later when their Magician Deco was sent off for a second yellow for playing the ball without a boot on ...It was the signal for a revival of Boavista's spirit, and they came back at Porto, Ricardo Sousa seeing a shot blocked by Costinha in the dying minutes.

A tense, very competitive game, then, but one that gave the impression that there was injustice at play, especially given Boavista's excellent first half.



Alverca 1-1 Boavista (SuperLiga, Day 4)


Alverca: Yannick, Amoreirinha, Marco Almeida, Veríssimo, Nandinho, Torrão, Pedro neves, Gabriel, Rodolfo Lima (Alex Afonso), Caju (Zé Roberto), Ramires (Manú)

Boavista: William, Rui Oscar, Éder, Ricardo Silva, Viveros, Frechaut, André, Raúl Meireles (Duda), Ricardo Sousa, Cafú (Fary), Luíz Cláudio (Ali)

Man of the Match: Ricardo Sousa (Boavista)

Boavista drew at Alverca Monday in an ill-tempered game that had 58 fouls, one sending off and noisy contestation of the referee, Pedro Proença, who Alverca coach José Couceiro accused after the game of having double standards. Certainly, if Alverca's Torrão deserved two yellows and the consequent red on 80 minutes, then Boavista central defender Ricardo Silva deserved a direct red for a cynical aggression on Alverca full-back Amoreirinha, right in front of the fourth official's eyes.

As for the football itself, the game rarely rose above a lot of huff and puff, neither side showing much finesse. Boavista put some nice passing together in the first fifteen minutes, but it was generally pretty inconsequential stuff, although André forced a good save from Yannick on five minutes and should have done better but dwelt too long on the ball on 20. Steadily, though, Alverca began to make headway, and from a game based mainly on counter-attack, they eased into control of proceedings, the useful Rodolfo Lima especially dangerous boith directly and feeding his team-mates. Ramires, too, was proving a handful for Viveros, and on the half hour he went on a scything run through the Boavista defence, but like André at the other end, dwelt too long on his options and the ball was cleared.

Sanchez brought on Fary at half-time for the hard-working but ineffectual Cafú, and the change was immediate, Boavista coming close twice in the first three minutes through Ricardo Sousa, the first with a squandered chance at the back post from a long cross by former Beira-Mar colleague Fary, the second with a snap volley from the edge of the box that had Yannick beaten but pinged off the bar.

Typically, it was all for nought as Alverca came back and on eight minutes went ahead, Torrão having time on the right to find Gabriel in a central position in twenty-five metres out, and Gabriel in turn having time to tee himself up and drill a low shot past William's left hand. They could have been two-up no more than two minutes later, Rodolfo Lima driving a shot firmly goalwards from the right but William tipping spectacularly over.

The game was getting scrappy now, and it was going to be moments of individual talent that would decide the game rather than concerted team play. Twenty minutes into the second half, sub Ali cracked a long range shot against the left hand post, then on 25 minutes, Ricardo Sousa curled a trademark free-kick in off the post and Yannick's head.

The final minutes were taken up mainly with niggling fouls, players facing up to each other and that aggression, but there was still time for Ali to come close again and Amoreirinha to almost put past his own ´keeper. Boavista are slowly growing in confidence and power, although their reputation as hard men seems to be intact after the handover from Jaime Pacheco to Erwin Sanchez. As for Alverca, they showed enough to suggest that they should not be struggling to stay up this season.



Portugal 0-3 Spain (Friendly International)

Portugal: Ricardo (Quim), Miguel, Fernando Couto, Fernando Meira (Jorge Andrade), Nuno Valente (Rui Jorge), Maniche (Frechaut), Costinha, Sérgio Conceição (Boa Morte), Rui Costa (Deco), Figo, Pauleta.

Spain: Casillas (Cañizares), Michel Salgado, Juanito, Marchena, Puyol (Romero), Etxeberría (Joaquín), Xabi Alonso, Baraja (Xavi), Vicente (Reyes), Raúl (Tristán), Fernando Torres (Valeron).

Man of the Match: Michel Salgado (Spain)

Portugal put in yet another sorry performance in their preparation for next year's EURO 2004, this time against eternal rivals Spain, losing, and rightly so, 0-3. In fact it could have been more, such was the superiority of the Spanish side, who might have been forgiven for taking it easy ahead of their vital midweek game against the Ukraine but who came out with all guns blazing and didn't let up until the final whistle.

After Portugal had the first good chance of the game, Pauleta flashing wide, it was a case of the clued-up versus the clueless. Spain looked to have all departments solidly drilled, especially the midfield, where they were almost always first to the ball, and the flanks, where they galloped at their leisure. Their first goal, on eleven minutes, came from a foray down the left, with Miguel caught out of position and Vicente free to take the ball to the line and cut it back. Raúl missed his shot, but the ball carried for Etxeberría at the back post, who had time to pick his spot.

Spain were simply miles ahead of the Portuguese in terms of sharpness, aggression, organization and objectivity, and could have been two up by half time, a free kick by Baraja pinging off the left post. Portugal, with heads down, left the field at half-time to whistles from their own supporters.

Changes at half-time seemed briefly to make a difference; Jorge Andrade in defence, Boa Morte on the wing and Maniche dropping deep gave Portugal a little more solidity, and Pauleta once again had the chance to pull one back on 57 minutes from a through pass by Jorge Andrade, but the PSG striker cracked his shot just wide. Five minutes later the game was up, Valeron avoiding a number of tackles in midfield to feed the excellent Michel Salgado on the right, his cut-back cross finding sub Joaquin on the edge of the box, the striker having all the time in the world to knock the ball past Ricardo, although there may have been a deflection off Fernando Couto.

Spain were rampant, and Portugal had no answers, even with the entry of Deco for Rui Costa. Ricardo saved them with a flying tip round the post on 68 minutes from Valeron, but he was powerless on 75 when Tristan was put through on goal and scooped the ball comfortably over the oncoming 'keeper.

By the end, the 'home' crowd were shouting olés whenever Spanish players touched the ball, and at the final whistle the Portuguese team were met with a wall of whistling and white handkerchiefs.

Altogether a disastrous night for Portuguese football, unless Scolari can turn this into lessons to be learned. But the fact is that the team appear to be making no progress whatsoever. Worrying in the least.



Boavista 0-0 Benfica (SuperLiga, Day 1)

Boavista: William, Rui Oscar, Ricardo Silva, Éder, Viveros, Raul Meireles (Pedro Santos), André, Fréchaut, Ricardo Sousa, Martelinho (Cafu), Luíz Claudio (Fary)

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Ricardo Rocha, Argel, Cristiano, Petit, Fernando Aguiar (Andersson), Zahovic (Féher), Simão, Geovani (João Perreira) Sokota.

Man of the Match: Fréchaut (Boavista)

This pitch battle of a match was played out in the spirit of a cup final, such was the commitment on both sides, sometimes bordering on the murderous, especially from Boavista (for which the influence of former coach Jaime Pacheco seems to have lived beyond his replacement by Erwin Sanchez). Eight yellow cards were shown, five for Boavista, and there may have been a smattering of red there if referee Carlos Xistra had not been so obviously bent on keeping all 22 on the field. Benfica coach Camacho said after the game that referees should be harder on hard play, but this is to ignore the role of coaches and the players themselves in improving the spectacle; Benfica were far from angels on the day.

Boavista's aggression had Benfica on the back foot from the off, and the home side owned the first half-hour, always first to the ball and transforming possession into incisive attacking play which created clear chances for Luíz Claudio (twice), Ricardo Sousa (twice) and Raul Meireles, but their shots were all either high or wide, or both. Benfica finally shook themselves out of their grogginess on 35 minutes and almost took the lead. Unfortunately for them, the chance, from some sloppy defending, fell to Zahovic, who has lost the sharpness of his FC Porto years, and the chance came to nothing. The same player was closer two minutes later with a neat shot on the turn, but William was down well to save.

Camacho must have told his players at half time to mix it with Boavista, for that's exactly what happened, and it became a much more even match, if not much prettier. Even so, Boavista were still creating chances, and a nice dummy by Meireles on the edge of the box saw Fréchaut make himself some space to shoot, but his shot was deflected for a corner. Then Cafu was put through on goal, but in the one-on-one, Moreira was quicker to the ball.

Camacho had to make changes, and he gave youngster João Perreira a chance in place of the ineffectual Goevani. Wingers Geovani and Simão had had little change out of Viveros and Rui Oscar respectively, but Perreira provided a fresh pair of legs down the right and suddenly Viveros was having difficulties. On the hour Perreira forced a corner on the right, it was taken by Zahovic and Cristiano rose to thunder a header against the bar. Benfica would only have one more good chance, but Ricardo Rocha's free header at the back post went straight to William's hands. That was in added time, but meantime Boavista had had two more good chances, both falling to Senegalese striker Fary, making his début after his move from Beira-Mar. The first of his headers was saved acrobatically by Moreira, the second was wide.

On the whole, Boavista fans can be relieved after what appeared to be a pre-season that augured nothing but bad things; there was good linkage between the various sectors, chances were created and the famous aggressive Boavista style remains intact - if a little exaggerated here. Objective Benfica fans, on the other hand, will have plenty of reasons to worry that the title will elude them once again.



Lázio 3-1 Benfica (Champions League, 3rd Qualifying Round)

Lázio: Peruzzi, Oddo, Stam, Mihajlovic, Favalli (Liverani), Zauri, Albertini (Sérgio Conceição), Stankovic, Fiore, Corradi, Claudio Lopez (Gianichedda).

Benfica: Moreira, Miguel, Argel, Ricardo Rocha, Cristiano, Petit, Zahovic (Roger), Fernando Aguiar (Andersson), Geovanni (Féher), Sokota, Simão.

Man of the Match: Peruzzi (Lázio)

Benfica shot themselves in the foot Wednesday when a conjunction of circumstances could have seen them coming away from Rome with the tie in the bag. The Lisbon giants dominated for long stretches of the game - they had double the shots of Lázio in the first half - but a certain naïvety at this level of competition (Benfica have not played in Europe for three years) and some awful defending took its toll, and Lázio took advantage.

Benfica were confident and aggressive in the early stages, taking the game to a curiously nervous Lázio. Geovanni, Simão and Argel all had good efforts that were either blocked by defenders or saved by the excellent Peruzzi. And then after only a quarter of an hour, the typical Portuguese lapse: what should have been an inoffensive throw-in from the left got central defender Argel and Moreira in a knot of non-communication and Corradi nipped in to say "Thank you very much!"

Moreira is capable of the best and worst between the Benfica sticks: just five minutes later he dropped a simple cross and his defenders had to clear, then on 25 he was brave to narrow the angle and block Cláudio Lopez as the forward beat the off-side trap and was bearing down on goal.

But his counterpart Peruzzi was one of the differences between the two teams. On the half hour, he got down at the near post to a neat Sokota flick from a low cross by Geovanni. One of the other differences was the no-nonsense Stam, who took the ball off Fernando Aguiar's toe on 35 minutes when the midfilder was setting himself to score at the back post, and he got in the way of a Sokota header on 37 to deflect it wide for a corner.

One thought that with a bit of half-time pep, Benfica might be able to be a little more decisive up front and secure at the back ... but seven minutes into the half, the Champions League prize was suddenly disappearing at light speed: Benfica's defence was all at sea once again as Cláudio Lopes latched onto a loose ball and cut it back for Fiore, significantly unmarked in front of goal, to lash it home.

Fiore almost put a final nail in Benfica's coffin on 62 with a drive that just drifted wide of the left-hand post, but a minute later, Benfica lifted the lid with a neatly crafted goal: a Miguel throw was glanced on by the useful Sokota and the ball fell to Simão whose shot was deflected past Peruzzi by Oddo.

It was the only way Peruzzi was going to be beaten, and Stam also continued to provide miraculous cover for his ´keeper, sending a speculative Roger shot for a corner on 70 minutes.

At the other end, a needless handball by Brazilian Roger, who is highty talented with the ball at his feet but frustratingly ingenuous otherwise, gave Lázio the breathing space that will surely prove enough to get past the second leg; Mihailovic, a specialist, took the free-kick from 25 metres and placed it impeccably in the top right hand corner of the net, with Moreira rooted to the spot.

There were chances at both ends before the final whistle, Miguel driving a superb, angry shot at the Lázio goal on 84, but there was that man Peruzzi once again to deny him. Then on the stroke of time, Moreira provided the save of the match, launching himself to his right to put a Liverani drive round the left hand post.

The tie looks settled, the two-goal difference and Lázio's European experience sure to tell in the return (at Boavista's loaned Bessa Stadium in two weeks). It's a shame - on the balance of play, Benfica should have left Rome with at least a draw. But there is always the UEFA Cup.



Sporting 3-1 Manchester United (Friendly - Inauguration of Alvalade XXI)

Sporting: Ricardo, Miguel Garcia (Mário Sérgio), Beto (Anderson Polga), Hugo, Rui Jorge, Rochemback, (Paulo Bento), Cusódio, João Pinto (Toñito), Cristiano Ronaldo, Luís Filipe (Tello), Silva (Lourenço)

Manchester United: Barthez, Fortune (Van Nistelrooy), Ferdinand, O'Shea (Lynch), Silvestre, Butt (Phil Neville), Djemba Djemba, Scholes (Fletcher), Solksjaer, Kieron Richardson (Pugh), David Bellion

Man of the Match: Rochemback (Sporting)

Sporting put in their best all-round team display of the pre-season to comfortably beat the mighty Manchester United ... although they were clearly not feeling so mighty on the night; the English side looked jet-lagged from their tour of the USA, and coach Ferguson rested half the regular first team to let the second string have a bash. But this is not to take anything away from Sporting's performance; they played like a team for a change, and most of their key players were on song: João Pinto was as busy as ever, but was more incisive than normal; wunderkind Cristiano Ronaldo caused the Manchester flanks all kinds of problems whenever he had the ball at his feet, his jinks and dummies proving more consequential than they sometimes are; and in new loan signing from Barcelona, Rochemback, Sporting have a tireless midfield dynamo who can create as well as he destroys.

Manchester flattered to deceive in the opening minutes, beginning to create the little triangles in midfield that they do so well. But it was not very objective, and Sporting soon had the measure of them, Rochemback, Custódio and João Pinto giving their opposite numbers very little time on the ball, and launching attacks smoothly and swiftly when they had it. Rochemback and Ronaldo both had good efforts in the first twenty minutes, the latter cutting inside and shooting for Barthez to parry, Manchester's only attempt a long-distance drive from Djemba Djemba that sailed wide of the left-hand post.

Then on 25 minutes, the packed house erupted with the first goal in the new stadium: Ronaldo and Rui Jorge combined well on the left, the full back curled a low cross in, Silva let it pass and there was Luís Filipe at the back post to crash the ball into the roof of the net. Luís Filipe is not exactly one of the favourites at Alvalade, but his name will go down in history. Sporting had another good chance before the break, Custodio driving for Barthez to push it round the post. From Manchester, there was very little indeed.

Somebody who is a favourite at Sporting, João Pinto, was decisive in the second half. On 62 minutes, Rochemback sent over a firm free kick from the left for João Pinto to rise and head home. Then on 80, Miguel Garcia nudged the ball into the area, sub Lourenço laid it off beautifully and João Pinto took it in his stride and struck a sweet shot past Barthez, who got a finger to it. In between the goals, Cristiano Ronaldo had broken through on goal and shot for Barthez to save well again. Ferguson brought on Nistelrooy to try to minimise the damage, and he did dynamise Manchester's front line and managed a typical burst through and shot for Ricardo to make his only save of the game, but it was Solskjaer who caused the consolation for United five minutes from time, his cross deflected into his own goal by Hugo, who will also go down in history but for the wrong reason.

A satisfying night's work for Sporting, then, and a result that is bound to inject some confidence into their build-up for the new season. As for Manchester United, well they were frankly lacklustre and poor, a result no doubt of a gruelling spell of games and travelling.


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