Even considering its reputation as one of Europe's most atmospheric stadiums, the noise in the Estádio Sport Lisboa e Benfica on Sunday night was breathtaking. O Clássico, between SL Benfica and FC Porto, is always an occasion to savour, but rarely an environment in which to make reasoned and considered judgements.
It is therefore a huge compliment to Porto to say that most of the 60,000-plus spectators, regardless of their allegiances, will have left the arena thinking that the Portuguese champions will be a team to watch when the UEFA Champions League resumes in a few weeks. Both of the Liga's top two retained their unbeaten records courtesy of a gripping 2-2 draw, but the visitors' poise after a frenetic start to the match – all four goals were scored in the opening 17 minutes – was quite arresting.
Moreover, Porto coach Vítor Pereira had been unable to call on two of his key men, with effervescent winger James Rodríguez and key defender Maicon both unavailable through injury. Pereira has assembled a motivated and able squad, with defender Eliaquim Mangala – who scored the opening goal on Sunday – just one of the players to step in from the shadows to make his presence felt this season. Whisper it, but the group dynamic is reminiscent of José Mourinho's 2004 vintage and André Villas-Boas's 2011 UEFA Europa League winners.
It takes two to make a Clássico, of course, and Benfica showed plenty of the attacking style which means fans will be delighted to see them return to the UEFA Champions League in 2013/14. Former Chelsea FC midfielder Nemanja Matić exemplified the positive attitude of Jorge Jesus's side despite performing a nominally defensive role, with his sumptuous volley the goal of the game.
Benfica will be back but, for now, it is down to Porto to do Portugal proud in Europe's premier club competition. First up, in the round of 16, are Málaga CF, who go to the Estádio do Dragão on 19 February before the return in Spain on 13 March.
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