THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sporting and Braga both improving

icon portclubs22 August ~ FC Porto once again seem the most likely to sweep all before them in Portugal after winning the title last year by a single point. They've lost João Moutinho and James Rodríguez but have kept the bones of last season's title-winning team intact and appear to have gained an excellent player in Colombian Juan Quintero. He came on as sub in the 3-1 win at Vitória de Setúbal last Sunday and scored a glorious goal out of nothing to break ten-man Vitória's resolve. Another Colombian, the unsettled Jackson Martínez, scored the third.

There were also the first refereeing controversies of the new season. Vitória had keeper Pawel Kieszek sent off for gently nutting midfielder Josué after the latter had netted a penalty and wanted to hurry the ball back to the centre spot. Josué did a passable imitation of a sack of spuds and Kieszek walked, opening the game up for Porto. "I'm not going to talk about the refereeing," said Vitória coach José Mota, who went on to talk about the refereeing. "With all due respect for the opponent," said Porto's Paulo Fonseca, "I don't remember playing against a José Mota team and them not complaining afterwards." And so it begins.

At least Porto got off to a flying start, unlike the only team that should prove any real competition for them again. Benfica hadn't won on the opening day for eight years. Now it's nine. On the traditionally tricky visit to Madeiran side Marítimo, Benfica looked jaded already. Their end of season was disastrous, their pre-season has been lacklustre and they were back into disaster mode for the opener, losing 2-1. Much has been made of the on-going tiff between coach Jorge Jesus and Paraguayan striker Óscar Cardozo, who openly challenged Jesus at the end of the Portuguese Cup final defeat against Vitória de Guimarães in May. The will-he-won't-he transfer saga will not have helped dressing-room morale and the coach's position is being questioned after this early stutter.

After their worst ever season, which ended in seventh place, Sporting signed some very useful players, promoted some more from their renowned academy and got themselves a decent, astute coach in Leonardo Jardim. The fixture draw helped them with the opening game. Promoted Arouca, from a municipality with a population of 25,000, are in the top flight for the very first time. Sporting's ultras tried out an impressive new chant that begins "You're going to win, you'd better believe it" and the players obliged, handsomely, 5-1. Sporting took a leaf from Porto's book and raided the Colombian market for Fredy Montero, who got a hat-trick on his official debut. Their fans' euphoria at being top of the league after one game might be just a tad premature but it was a good start all the same.

Last season's surprise team Paços de Ferreira finished third but they've lost some decent players – including key midfielders Josué to Porto and Luíz Carlos to Braga – and look unlikely to repeat the feat, especially under practically untried coach Costinha. They came off second best at home to Braga (2-0), who, with a strengthened squad and veteran coach Jesualdo Ferreira in charge, look a good bet to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. Phil Town

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