UEFA Futsal Cup winners SL Benfica lost their grip on the Portuguese title after losing 3-1 to Sporting Clube de Portugal in the best-of-five championship play-off finals.
Top after the regular season, from which the leading eight clubs went into the play-offs, Sporting had the advantage of being at home in the first, second and – if needed – fifth game of the final series. They opened with a 4-3 win but Benfica triumphed in the second by the same score, meaning the European champions, who have reached the Portuguese showpiece in all nine seasons since they were formed, knew that two home victories this weekend would ensure a fourth straight title.
On Saturday, it was 4-4 after extra time but Sporting wrested the initiative as they prevailed 9-7 in an epic penalty shoot-out. Now Sporting were one win from their first championship since 2006 but 14 minutes in on Sunday, Benfica were 2-0 up through Joel Queirós and Ricardinho, on what could prove to be his last appearance before his planned move to Japanese club Nagoya Oceans. Café pulled one back before the break and Alex equalised after the restart only for Davi to put the Eagles back in front. However, Alex scored again with four minutes left to force extra time.
The additional ten minutes began well for Sporting when, with Benfica down to four men after Ricardinho was sent off, Divanei scored. The home side deployed Zé Maria as a flying goalkeeper but that allowed Alex to complete his hat-trick for the visitors and decide the title two minutes from the end.
I want to thank Sporting for the opportunity to be a winner," said 45-year old coach Paulo Fernandes as he stepped down following the club's ninth championship success. "The club have won 14 major trophies and I won half of them as a coach and four more as an assistant. So this title has a bittersweet flavour."
Sporting were already assured a UEFA Futsal Cup main round berth thanks to Benfica winning the European crown in Lisbon in April. André Lima's Benfica begin the 2010/11 edition in the elite round and the coach said: "We put on a show but we lost. [Sporting goalkeeper] Cristiano was great."
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