Portugal – Liga Zon Sagres Season Review


Portugal – Liga Zon Sagres Season Review

(picture courtesy of EuroNews)

Another season has come to a close in Portugal, with Porto narrowly pipping Benfica to the title for a second season running. Until the two met at the start of May, both went unbeaten for the preceding 28 games, with Benfica leading by two points. Porto won the fixture 2-1 and took the lead, and beat one of the surprises of the season, Pacos Ferreira, 2-0 to seal the title.

Benfica and Porto have qualified for the Champions League, along with Pacos, who despite finishing 10th in the 2011/12 season, rose above the rest of the pack to take 3rd spot, disappointingly for Braga, who had been fighting for the spot. Braga, who finished 3rd last season, had a decent Champions League campaign, and led Manchester Utd 2-0 in October, but eventually lost 3-2. They will go into the Europa League next season.

The battle for Europa League places went to the final day, with 7 points separating 5th place Estoril and 10th place Maritimo. With Braga already taking one, being on 52 points, it was between Rio Ave and Estoril, with the latter eventually taking the place despite only being promoted this season.

Along with Estoril and Pacos Ferreira, Rio Ave were the other team to turn heads this season. In 2011/12 they narrowly avoided relegation, finishing 14th. Looking at the statistics and players on show for all three, nothing suggests any should be fighting for the top six. No individuals shone through, with all three teams not having a player get above 12 goals. It goes to show that a mixture of hard work and good fortune can go a long way to helping secure the Holy Grail that is European Football.

Estoril’s epic rise from 2nd division winners to Europa League football has been nothing short of meteoric. There are no big names, no star players, just good young talent like Bruno Nascimento, who has been a rock at the heart of their defence this season, despite being only 21. Similarly with Pacos Ferreira, who have a team brimming with bright young talent such as Peruvian Paulo Hurtado and Andre Leao, have risen from the depths of mid-table mediocrity to qualify for the early stages of the Champions League. They have an incredible record this season, only losing 4 games in the league, winning 14 and drawing 12.

Once European Giant and owner of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Viana, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, Sporting Lisbon, have continued their struggles financially and managerially, finishing 7th this season. With leading goal-scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel about to leave, they have to face next season without European Football, which they struggled in this season after a 5th place finish in 2011/12. Changing manager 3 times throughout the course of the season has clearly had an effect, with the side lying between 9th-12th for much of 2013. Only since Jesualdo Ferreira replaced Franky Vercauteren in late January did they pick up form and finish the season strongly. However it has now been announced the Leonardo Jardim is to replace Ferreira from next season.

At the bottom, Beira Mar and Moreirense have been relegated. Similarly with the English Premier League, 11th to 16th (Bottom) were separated by 5 points on the final day, with any of the bottom 5 having a chance of going down. Beira Mar were swept aside by Lisbon, 4-1, and Moreirense were leading Benfica 1-0, but eventually lost 3-1. Moreirense had the unwanted record of 14 games without a win during the season, which may have contributed to their downfall.

This coming Sunday see’s Vitoria Guimaraes take on Benfica in the Taca de Portugal Cup final. Since Benfica are already in Europe, Guimaraes know whatever happens they have qualified for the Europa League.

The rest of the teams were fighting a losing battle. Very little money with fairly average players compared to some of the top sides who have bottomless pockets and youth teams who would probably do better than most meant that as usual bar the top 6/7 there was very little competition. Nacional, Guimaraes, Maritimo and Vitoria Setubal were the best of the rest, often giving the top sides very difficult games.

Maritimo were very good at home, but lacked the discipline away. Having finished 5th the season before and getting into the group stages of the Europa League, facing the likes of Bordeaux and Newcastle, and gave some strong performances, but failed to replicate that form in the league. 10th place in 2012/13 will be hard to take after such a season, but they will come back stronger having learnt valuable lessons.

Porto’s Jackson Martinez took the Top Scorer award with 26 goals, better than Benfica’s duo Lima (20) and the ever present Oscar Cardozo (17). Joining Portugal’s’ top division next season will be Belenenses, who reached the Taca de Portugal Semi Finals, and Arouca.

Several new talents were found during the season. Ricardo Pereira (19) of Guimaraes (Released by Lisbon) had a fine first season, with a couple of goals and assists. Well known by some, Bruma (18) of Sporting ended the season in the first eleven, with some impressive displays. The other was Andre Gomes, sold to Benfica by Porto at 19, played his part in both league and Euro campaigns, with 10 league appearances, 2 goals, and some very tasty performances.

To summarise, a very competitive season from top to bottom, plenty of goals and tight battles up and down the league. Estoril are our team of the season, to finish 5th having just been promoted is an achievement in itself. Pacos Ferreira impressed greatly and will hope to do well in the Champions League. It was an intense battle between Benfica and Porto as always, with Porto just nicking the title at the last moment. Next season should be spectacular!