When Boavista FC were crowned Portuguese champions least season their success was dismissed by cynics as testament to the deficiencies of the country's traditional powers, but Jaime Pacheco's side have proved during this season's UEFA Champions League that last term's title triumph was no fluke.
After being paired with four-time European champions Liverpool FC, 1996/97 winners BV Borussia Dortmund and perennial Ukrainian representatives FC Dynamo Kyiv, Boavista's chances of Champions League progress were dismissed, but the distinguished company in Group B did not overawe them.
Strength and speed
Following the departure of Rui Bento and Litos, Pacheco brought in eight players in the summer in preparation for the club's second assault on the continent's greatest prize. The emphasis in Pacheco's favoured 4-3-3 formation is certainly on strength and speed, with electric forward Silva personifying that approach. The impressive Petit, meanwhile, a product of the club's highly rated youth system, is the anchor in midfield.
The 27 year-old midfield player Martelinho has been Pacheco's only lengthy injury concern. He was injured in the club's first competitive game of the season, the Portuguese Super Cup, but returned on Matchday Four and has featured in every game since.
Pacheco's attacking mentality paid instant dividends in Boavista's opening game of the competition in Liverpool, Silva firing his side ahead after just three minutes before Michael Owen levelled later in the half to secure a 1-1 draw. The England marksman's goal failed to dent the Portuguese outfit's spirits and they soared to the top of the group in recording victories in each of their subsequent two home games - 3-1 against Dynamo and 2-1 over Dortmund.
Lowest points total
However, the defence's repeated failure to shut out the opposition saw them lose the return game against Dortmund, 2-1, and held by Liverpool, Silva salvaging a home point on the hour. Boavista went into the final match knowing they would qualify if they matched Dortmund's result in Liverpool. With the German side going down 2-0 in England, Boavista's 1-0 loss in Kiev was rendered academic and saw them reach the second group stage with eight points - the lowest total of the 16 qualifiers.
It would have been easy for Boavista to approach the second stage with an underdog mentality, but that is not the club's style and they showed it in defeating French side FC Nantes Atlantique in their opening game. Erwin Sánchez's first-half strike at the Bessa stadium secured three vital points and made them the early pacesetters following FC Bayern München's 1-1 home draw with Manchester United FC.
Two goals from Ruud van Nistelrooij helped United ease past Boavista 3-0 in their second game of the section and the Portuguese side seemingly now have their work cut out to take one of the qualification berths from their illustrious English and German opponents.
If Boavista harbour any real ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals it is imperative they take three points, or at least gain two draws, from their forthcoming double header with Bayern, and then win in France in their penultimate match. That would lead to a nail-biting conclusion to the section, with United in Portugal and Bayern at home to Nantes on Matchday 12 next March.
A gifted defensive midfield player who performed with distinction for Sporting and Porto as well as Portugal, Pacheco has since developed into one of his country's finest coaches. He first guided Boavista to the Champions League in 1999 and was acclaimed as a minor miracle worker when steering them to the title last season. The 43-year-old is an advocate of an attacking game - no matter who the opposition.
'Afraid of nobody'
Before the tournament kicked off he summed up the team's approach to their European adventure, saying: "We'll approach the Champions League in the same manner we did the Portuguese league last year. We will be afraid of nobody and respect everyone." This philosophy has certainly served them well thus far.
The purchase of Silva from SC Braga prior to the 2000/01 season was arguably the final piece in Pachecho's championship jigsaw as the Brazilian striker plundered ten goals in 21 games to join fellow countryman Duda at the head of the club's scoring charts.
A relative unknown on the European stage prior to this season's Champions League, he can enjoy the winter break content in the knowledge that he is one of the competition's leading marksmen. Silva has four goals to his credit, the same as Alessandro del Piero and Raúl González, despite playing fewer matches than his esteemed peers, and will be looking to fire Boavista into the knockout stages next year.
Since following up a 5-0 thumping of FC Paços de Ferreira - a result which lifted Boavista back to the summit of the 1. Liga - with a defeat of Nantes, the Axadrezada's championship defence has experienced something of a stutter. An away loss to Sporting Clube de Portugal was a blow to Boavista's title aspirations but they are still well in the hunt to repeat last season's success.
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