Mauricio Pinilla scored a hat-trick as Sporting Clube de Portugal kept up the pressure on SL Benfica.
By Onofre Costa
SL Benfica edged past a stubborn CF Belenenses side to remain at the top of the Portuguese SuperLiga, but Sporting Clube de Portugal remain just three points behind after Mauricio Pinilla scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against SC Braga.
Sporting's hero after coming off the bench the bench to score in their UEFA Cup match against AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, Pinilla was rewarded with a rare start in a top-of-the-table encounter with Braga and vindicated José Peseiro's decision in some style.
After a well-balanced first half, the Chile striker broke the deadlock on 57 minutes, heading in Rodrigo Tello's cross. Six minutes later it was 2-0 when he converted a centre from João Moutinho, before the 21-year-old rounded off his hat-trick with another header 12 minutes from time as Sporting climbed four points clear of their opponents.
They remain three points behind leaders Benfica, however, after Giovanni Trapattoni's side overcame a resilient CF Belenenses team at the Estádio da Luz. Simão Sabrosa scored the only goal of the game, converting a 68th-minute penalty as the title looks increasingly like it could be decided on 15 May when Benfica face Sporting.
Should the leading pair slip up, champions FC Porto remain in contention after Benni McCarthy earned the side a 1-0 victory against CS Marítimo. Diego Ribas missed a second-half penalty but Porto held on and remain just a point behind Sporting in third.
At the bottom, Associação Académica de Coimbra have almost ensured their safety after a 1-0 win against FC Boavista extended their unbeaten league run to eleven games. Brazilian striker Luciano scored the only goal of the game on 36 minutes, prompting Boavista coach Jaime Pacheco to resign after the match.
A goalless draw between strugglers Moreirense FC and Beira Mar SC significantly helped neither side, but meant GD Estoril-Praia slipped to last place after they were defeated 4-1 by Lisbon neighbours CD Nacional. Elsewhere, Gil Vicente FC and UD Leiria drew 1-1, while goals from Ricardo Chaves and Albert Meyong gave Vitória FC a 2-0 win against Rio Ave FC.
Vitória SC moved up to fifth place on Monday night as a late goal from Marco Ferreira secured a 2-1 win at home against FC Penafiel. Hungarian defender Attila Dragoner put Guimarães in front in the eleventh minute but Brazilian forward Roberto responded five minutes later and seemed to have earned Penafiel a point before Marco Ferreira struck with 12 minutes left.