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Champions Porto primed for tougher campaign

Published: Friday 12 August 2011, 10.08CET
New coach Vítor Pereira expects FC Porto to be pushed hard for the Liga title when the Portuguese season begins this weekend, saying: "We have to be even stronger."
by José Nuno Pimentel
from Lisbon
Champions Porto primed for tougher campaign
Porto celebrate with their latest piece of silverware: the Portuguese Super Cup ©AFP
Published: Friday 12 August 2011, 10.08CET

Champions Porto primed for tougher campaign

New coach Vítor Pereira expects FC Porto to be pushed hard for the Liga title when the Portuguese season begins this weekend, saying: "We have to be even stronger."

Having claimed the title last term by a record 21 points without losing a game, FC Porto are likely to encounter stiffer resistance in 2011/12 from traditional rivals SL Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal, who have both strengthened considerably this summer.

After a memorable campaign in which they won the Liga, UEFA Europa League and Portuguese Cup, Porto are adjusting to life under Vítor Pereira following the departure of André Villas-Boas − who the new coach assisted last season. Nonetheless, like Villas-Boas did 12 months ago, Pereira got his tenure off to the best possible start by steering the Dragons to Portuguese Super Cup glory last weekend.

"This is a starting point and a very good sign as Porto have won six of the last seven competitions they have contested," said Pereira following Sunday's 2-1 defeat of Vitória SC, the club Porto open their title defence against.

"There will be more difficulties than last season; we are aware of that. We have to be even stronger." With that in mind, Perreira has supplemented his all-conquering squad with Argentinian striker Juan Manuel Iturbe (currently at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, where his nation face Portugal on Saturday) and Brazilian striker Kléber, among others.

After failing to defend the title they won in 2010, Benfica − who begin the campaign on Friday at newcomers Gil Vicente FC − are keen to ensure Porto's dominance does not extend beyond a single season. "We have great expectations," said coach Jorge Jesus.

"Sporting are no doubt much stronger than last year, Benfica have more quality and more options, and Porto have maintained their shape. It will be a very strong league and then there is also Braga." The Eagles' influx includes goalkeeper Artur, defenders Joan Capdevilla and Ezequiel Garay and midfielder Axel Witsel.

Without a trophy for three years, Sporting have had the busiest summer of all under new coach Domingos Paciência, installed on the back of two successful campaigns with beaten UEFA Europa League finalists SC Braga. The Lions, who finished 36 points adrift of Porto in 2010/11, have added 14 new faces, including wingers Jeffrén Suárez and Diego Capel.

Sporting have had some indifferent pre-season results but Paciência hopes the supporters keep faith with a squad which will undoubtedly take time to gel. "We have new and young players and we have a team under construction, but we have to be stronger," said Paciência, who starts his tenure on Saturday against SC Olhanense. "I hope our fans keep believing in us."

Runners-up in 2010, Braga have turned to 37-year-old former SC Beira-Mar coach Leonardo Jardim, who has signed Nuno Gomes from Benfica. "In recent years Braga have proved they are a big club in Portuguese football," said Gomes, only two years Jardim's junior.

If Beira-Mar's new owner Iranian owner is to believed, though, the Aveiro outfit could be about to challenge the likes of Braga for a European place. Majid Pishyar, who holds an 80% stake in a team which finished 13th in May, is aiming high after taking over the presidency. "People say I am ambitious when I say I want to make this the fourth-best club in the Portuguese league, but I believe you have to have goals in life," he said.

Last updated: 06/12/11 3.00CET

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