SL Benfica delivered on their vow to provide a fitting tribute to Eusébio as they toppled arch-rivals FC Porto 2-0 in a memorable Clássico on Sunday to move to the head of the class in Portugal.
The death of iconic Benfica and Portugal forward Eusébio just over a week ago prompted a wave of emotion throughout the country, with supporters from every club paying their respects, Porto included. As the two powerhouses prepared to meet in Lisbon, Flora, the widow of the player nicknamed the 'Black Panther', expressed her husband's final wish: a minute of silence before kick-off. The crowd of more than 60,000 spectators duly obliged.
The atmosphere was stirring inside the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, with a huge banner emblazoned with the words 'Eusébio sempre' (Eusébio forever) and the departed legend's name on the back of each of the Benfica players' shirts. After the game started, however, it was business as usual, and Benfica striker Rodrigo had the home fans in raptures with the first goal of the game on 13 minutes.
Porto dominated possession as the first half progressed but failed to trouble their opponents, who looked comfortable soaking up pressure. Then, in the second period, Benfica were once again clinical in the first few minutes, registering a second goal through Ezequiel Garay. Rodrigo spurned a chance to score a third, but the damage had already been done, with Danilo's late dismissal compounding Porto's misery.
Unsurprisingly, the sentiments in the two camps contrasted markedly after the final whistle. "We were far better than Porto," explained Benfica coach Jorge Jesus. "We scored two goals and created more chances, something that Porto didn't manage to do. The team showed great tactical awareness and were too strong. If Eusébio were here, he would be very proud of us."
Jesus' counterpart, Paulo Fonseca sounded a note of regret, meanwhile. "We took control of proceedings from the beginning, but after missing a chance we were punished at the other end," he said. "We pushed for the equaliser, but Benfica dropped into their half, looking for counterattacks and set pieces, making our task hard to a point where it wasn't possible to salvage anything from the game."
The result catapulted the Eagles from third to first, giving them a two-point lead over Sporting Clube de Portugal, with Porto a further point back in third place. With 15 games remaining, Benfica now occupy the driving seat, but Fonseca is adamant that his side can still have their say: "The league isn't over yet. It's still in our hands and I believe that the standings will look different at the end."
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