I arrived at the Estádio da Luz regretting having missed the always spectacular opening flight of eagle Vitória, but still in time to be a part of the stadium-wide choreography.
Despite the nagging rain, the supporters were shouting for their teams and the pitch looked in perfect condition. The atmosphere was simply breathtaking and everybody seemed eager to get started.
Facing each other were two great sides: the glorious Benfica against the strong FC Porto. Strong eleven’s for both teams, for Benfica: Júlio César, Renato Sanches, Pizzi, Jonas, Gaitán, Mitroglou. For Porto: Casillas, Layún, Danilo, André, Brahimi and Aboubakar .
I’m always cautious about these games. After all, in “Clássicos” odds just don’t work as usual. Even so, we had to be objective about it. Benfica was coming from a streak of victories with lots of goals scored and Porto’s confidence was at an all time low after too many recent frustrations and less than ideal results.This was our big opportunity to grab one more consecutive victory, and get a confidence boost, to pick up momentum towards the finish line as league winners.
The match finally got underway, Benfica pressed on, and began creating goal opportunities. People in the stands felt our moment of joy was about to arrive. The”Encarnados” new wonder kid, Renato Sanches, moved forward on the field, settled the new Adidas Errejota soccer ball on his chest, overtook a Porto midfielder, and with a perfectly timed pass, put through Mitroglou, the Greek striker had just enough time to ask Iker Casillas what side he sh,ould shoot the ball to and it was in! Benfica had scored the first goal of the “Clássico”! The stands exploded in excitement and belief!
Benfica was winning the game, and the supporters began singing the “Tri” (third consecutive league title) song: «Bring us the Tri, Benfica! Bring us the Tri, Benfica! Bring us the Tri, Benfica!» Everyone at the stadium and the many millions at home thought that was it.
It was still very early in the game, and the way the Eagles were playing – as opposed to the way the Dragons were not playing – brought a feeling of trust and confidence that more goals would come to kill the game off for Benfica.
Suddenly out of nowhere, FC Porto moved forward on the field, as if they had forgotten about Benfica’s initial goal and early dominance. They pressured Benfica close to their box and got the equaliser. What had just happened? How was that even possible?One shot, one goal for Porto and they were back in the game. It was time for Benfica to clear their heads, and respond in the same fashion.
The “Encarnados” moved forward, created a couple more opportunities and then Iker Casillas decided tonight would be his night. The Spanish goalkeeper – formerly considered one of the best in his position – started stopping every ball. I’ve got to hand it to him, his performance was amazing! It wasn’t time to give up yet, Benfica just had to keep pushing and pushing again and again.
Half time came, and it would be useful for Rui Vitória to talk to the players, reassure them that they could still win it. José Peseiro on Porto’s side would probably be having the same conversation.
When the second half started, much to the spectators’ discontentment, the Dragons seemed stronger, and more confident. They pushed Benfica back and blocked every attacking play. Porto launched themselves forward, which was risky, as they were allowing too much space on their backs for counter attacks, and that was precisely what Benfica tried. The Lisbon Eagles flew forward quick as a flash but every time they did, they missed goals in incredible fashion. One, two, and even more ugly misses. And… you know in soccer, the team that doesn’t score, usually takes a goal from their opponent.
Unfortunately that was precisely what happened moments later when Aboubakar penetrated Benfica’s box only to overtake Jardel and Júlio César to score the winner for FC Porto. Gosh! That was so frustrating. Frustrating and unfair after all those near-goal opportunities created (and missed)! Porto’s goal emptied Benfica’s stamina, and strength and everyone in the stadium started to lose hope. The crowd got desperate and deeply impatient with yet another couple of stupid misses in front of goal. It seemed there was no way for the ball to cross the goal line. Where had our recent super goal accuracy gone?!
In the end, the general feeling was that FC Porto was a deserved winner. They had been more intelligent in their game strategy and never gave up.We had only ourselves to blame, honestly. We lost, it was completely unfair. But Benfica lost by their own fault.You cannot miss so many goals during at World-class contest like a “Clássico”. If you do, you don’t really deserve to come out as the winner. That was the first rule of the beautiful game since the soccer ball was invented almost 200 years ago.