Benfica went out to Shakhtar Donetsk after leading 3-1 at home before being pegged back to 3-3 (agg 4-5). The victorious Ukrainian side included former Olhanense favourite Ismaily at the heart of their midfield.
Sporting were in a strong position, having won the first-leg 3-1, as they travelled to Turkey but Istanbul Basaksehir turned the game on its head to win 4-1 (agg 4-5).
FC Porto were 3-1 down on their return from playing Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and proceeded to lose the home leg 1-2 (agg 2-5).
SC Braga had been 2-0 up against Rangers in Glasgow but lost 3-2 and then went down 0-1 (agg 2-4) at home to Steve Gerrard’s team.
There has been an alarming slide in the quality of Portugal’s top flight with more-and-more players being attracted to the rich awards offered by other major European leagues. It was only sixteen years ago that FC Porto won the Champions League under José Mourinho. One year earlier Porto had triumphed in Europe’s secondary competition and would do so again in 2011, while Sporting, Braga and Benfica (twice) also made the Europa League final between 2005 and 2014.
In the past Portugal has nurtured and developed players of the calibre of Hulk, Di Maria, James Rodríguez, Falcao, David Luiz, Ederson, Jan Oblak and Eric Dyer as well as top-class local talent such as Rui Patrício, William Carvalho, Ricardo Carvalho and Fábio Coentrão to name just a few.
One major and obvious cause of the country’s increasing inability to compete at the top of the European game is the huge financial disparity among the football elite. Never before has there been such a chasm in wealth between the richest leagues and the rest. The expert use of third-party ownership enabled Portuguese clubs, with the help of external investment funds, to attract top emerging talent but when UEFA outlawed third-party ownership that well ran dry.
Much of the talent previously plying its trade here is now to be found in the English Premier League where Diogo Jota was again the star man as Wolverhampton Wanderers twice came from behind to beat Tottenham Hotspur to strengthen their hopes of a top four finish in England. Nuno Espírito Santo’s men trailed at the break but second-half goals from Jota and former Benfica striker Raul Jimenez gave the visitors all three points and inflicted a damaging defeat on José Mourinho’s Spurs.
Rúben Vinagre kept his place in Nuno’s side after impressing in the Europa League on Thursday, while Rúben Neves was restored to the line-up alongside João Moutinho in midfield and Rui Patrício joined the in-form Jota to make it five Portuguese taking the field. Mourinho, who was looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat, left January signing Gedson Fernandes on the substitutes bench.
Bruno Fernandes continues to impress during the early stages of his Manchester United career, as the former Sporting midfielder celebrated being named the club’s ‘Player of the Month’ with another goal in the Red Devils’ clash with Everton last Sunday. Fernandes came up against compatriot André Gomes in the midfield battle at Goodison Park, which ended in a 1-1 draw after a closely-fought contest. For Fernandes, the goal represented three consecutive matches in which he has found the net, while Gomes continued to look sharp on his first start since returning from injury.
On the domestic scene Benfica’s hopes of retaining the Primeira Liga title took a severe joint with 1-1 home draw against Moreirense. Benfica’s Pizzi missed a penalty just after the break when he blasted his spot-kick wide. The visitors then took the lead through Fábio Abreu (68’) before Pizzi stepped up to the spot for his second penalty in the first minute of stoppage time. Moreirense keeper Mateus Pasinato saved the initial shot but Pizzi was on hand to hammer home the rebound and rescue a point for the Eagles.
FC Porto moved to the top-of-the-table with a 2-0 victory in the Azores against Santa Clara thanks to goals from Wilson Manafá (37’) and Iván Marcano (76’).
There is a just a point separating Porto and Benfica in a two horse race for the title.