Sporting await wounded Benfica

by Hugo Pietra, Lisbon
published: Friday, 09 September 2005, 07:36
Sporting Clube de Portugal and SL Benfica are experiencing wildly differing fortunes ahead of this weekend's first Lisbon derby of the season.
Three games into the Portuguese season, Sporting Clube de Portugal and SL Benfica are preparing for the first Lisbon derby of 2005/06 on Saturday.

Rude awakening
Champions Benfica have had a rude awakening in their first two games under Dutch coach Ronald Koeman. Giovanni Trapattoni's replacement led the side to a goalless draw at A. Académica de Coimbra before a shock 2-0 home loss to Gil Vicente FC on 27 August.

Bright start
By contrast, Benfica's eternal rivals Sporting have made a bright start, beating CF Os Belenenses 2-1 in their opener then winning by the same margin at CS Marítimo, although defeat by Udinese Calcio in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round somewhat dampened the spirits.

Home advantage
Nonetheless, with home advantage at the Estádio José Alvalade, Sporting will be favourites even if coach José Peseiro misses the injured Edson, Beto, Semedo and Custódio. João Alves and Wender, recent arrivals from SC Braga, could make debuts.

Benfica arrivals
Meanwhile, new signings Fabrizio Miccoli and Giorgios Karagounis may help to bolster the visitors as Benfica aim to avoid the defeat that would make this their worst beginning to a season. With Petit injured, Beto should partner Manuel Fernandes in central midfield.

Nine from nine
A third successive Sporting win would equal the start they made in 1994/95, when Manchester United FC assistant manager Carlos Queiroz was the club's star striker. And there is confidence in the ranks that they can establish an eight-point lead over Benfica.

'A special game'
"It is a special game against opponents who have the same objectives in the league and Portuguese Cup as us," said forward Ricardo Sá Pinto. "Benfica are not playing as well as we are and they are having a bad time in the Liga. Sporting are at home and must be seen as favourites."

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