Monday, 18 April 2011

Monday Match Report: The best game of the weekend that you may not have seen

FC Porto 3-2 Sporting CP
Portuguese Primeira Liga
Sunday 17 April 2011

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Imperious Portuguese champions FC Porto were narrow victors in an extraordinary game at the Estádio do Dragão over Três Grandes rivals Sporting CP. With a vast goal difference of +50, and having conceded just 11 goals all season, Porto were understandably favourites against fourth-placed Sporting. In one of the highest-profile games in the Portuguese league season, neither side disappointed, producing a classic affair that further underlined exactly why the top three sides in the Primeira Liga occupy all but one of the semi-final places in this year’s Europa League competition.

Visitors Sporting, however, started the brightest, taking the lead after 11 minutes. With Porto failing to clear their lines, the ball fell to André Santos on the edge of the area. His low drive was deflected past the helpless Helton, who had dived according to Santos’ initial effort and not accounted for Matías Fernandéz’ unknowing deflection. There appears to have been some debate as to whom the goal should be allocated, but in the end it is clear that Fernandéz’ touch was crucial in diverting Santos’ effort home, and thus the strike is widely accredited to him.

Porto soon got into their stride, however, Radamel Falcao’s drive on the rebound from Fredy Guarín’s stinging effort well saved by Rui Patrício. Falcao was then denied again, this time by the post, his strong header not quite accurate enough to force an equaliser. Patrício proceeded to rescue Sporting once again, Brazilian striker Hulk putting Falcao through on goal only for the visiting ‘keeper to block his powerful effort. The Columbian wasn’t to be denied for long, however, crucially improving on his earlier headed effort to level the scores just before the half-hour mark. Jumping highest once again, he imperiously met a sweeping cross from the left, directing it over Patrício for the equaliser.

Having been deservedly pegged back, Sporting should have reclaimed the lead soon after, Yannick Djaló heading wildly over when unmarked from six yards out. Porto then began to turn the screw once again, Hulk playing in Joao Moutinho in the corner, before the midfielder gleefully made his way into the box, chipping an exquisite cross which Falcao met with an unstoppable diving header in the 50th minute. Jaime Valdés really ought to have pegged back Porto when clean through, but under pressure from the recovering Porto defender, he pitifully dragged his shot wide of the onrushing Helton.

Mariano González then broke down the left for Porto, launching an inch-perfect cross into the path of the hungry Falcao, but this time his header was straight at Patrício, falling harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms. In what was fast becoming a shooting gallery, Patrício was forced to make further saves before Porto made the game safe three minutes from time; Rúben Micael’s miscued effort finding its way to young Brazilian forward Walter, who slotted home coolly after breaking through the static Sporting defence.

Yet it wasn’t to be quite so simple for the Portuguese champions, as Sporting made them sweat for the final few minutes, Fernandéz picking the ball up inside the area before finding the top left-hand corner with a sweet drive. The result leaves Porto top of the Primeira Liga on 77 points, 19 clear of second-placed Benfica with a Europa League semi-final to come in a couple of weeks’ time.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Yahoo, Day Life, Livre Indirecto, Ole Ole, FourFourTwo

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