It's not the derby that Benfica-Sporting is in Portugal, but tomorrow's battle of the top two in the standings is a close second. Porto leads Benfica by four points and a win goes a long way toward another national title for the northerners. A Benfica win draws Porto back to the pack and gives hope to Sporting, Guimaraes and Setubal, who are gasping to stay within distance of the leaders.
Porto is truly a latecomer to the derby wars in Portugal, but for two decades, it's been the best team in the country and merits its spot among the big three. It has won 16 championships since th e 1984-85 season and three European titles (one European Champions Cup, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League). Benfica's 2004-2005 championship was its first since 1993-1994.
For some perspective, Benfica were kings of Portgual from 1959-1977, mainly on the backs of titans like Eusebio, Humberto Coelho and Bento, one of the greatest keepers in European history. Benfica won two European titles with Eusebio and was in the 1982-83 UEFA Cup final, where it lost to Anderlecht. For decades, Portuguese soccer went no deeper than two clubs: Benfica and Sporting. If Benfica had an off year, Sporting stepped up and took the title. Between 1946-1947 season and 1983-1984, Benfica and Sporting shared every title but four, all of which were won by Porto.
Since, however, Porto has been the dominant club with a cluster of stars on the field like Gomes, Madjer, Jardel and Jose Mourinho on the bench. Porto has won four of the last five Portuguese championships and hasn't missed a beat since Mourinho's departure--which include the pillaging of the club's best players such as Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira.
Now, this probably says more about the overall quality of the Portuguese league than it does about the big three. Scandal and financial strife has hit Benfica, and whispers of corruption and investigations always haunt the top brass at Porto. Sporting, meanwhile, continues to cultivate some of Europe's brightest young talent -- and sell it off immediately.
Still, the stadia are full when Benfica-Porto, Benfica-Sporting and Sporting-Porto clash. They have rabid following, worldwide too with large numbers of immigrants worldwide supporting the clubs. And tomorrow should be no different.
Porto is truly Portugal's super team and it comes into tomorrow's match on the heels of a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool. Porto, however, didn't need a result at Anfield and was looking ahead to Benfica a little bit, no doubt. It's the new classic in Portugal, and here's hoping it's a good match.
"Talking to the Doll" has a good preview of the match.
This video is in Portuguese, but it's got some vintage Eusebio highlights: