Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sporting Clube de Portugal - Vitória Sport Clube (05-03-2017)

After a true groundhop experience at Fabril in the early afternoon, and a nice early dinner with RT, I took the metro (green line) to Campo Grande and follow the green-white masses to the Estádio José Alvalade, home to Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the “Big Three” in Portuguese football.

Estádio José Alvalade was built in 2003 for the UEFA Cup 2004 and still regularly hosts home games of the Portuguese national team. It’s an ultra-modern stadium, part of a broader commercial zone that includes a mall, and holds 50.000 people. It is surrounded by small stands selling merchandise as well as food and has some fan graffiti on the outside.

Tonight’s game is between Sporting Lisbon and Vitória de Guimarães, to of the top teams in the Primeira Liga (First Division), the highest level of professional Portuguese football. At that time both teams are in the top-5 of the league.

I try to buy a ticket but first get to the wrong ticket office. After asking someone else – remarkable how many people in Lisbon speak English reasonably well – I line up and decide to live a little, getting a more expensive ticket: €35. It puts my reasonably at the center of the pitch in the second row.

I enter the stadium just before kick-off, catching the last part of the commercial pre-game show and the much more impressive singing of the club song (to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”).

The stadium is almost totally full – I later hear the official attendance was 41.822 – and almost everyone has a green-white jersey or scarf. The audience is predominantly male, but there are quite a lot of women (rarely without a man though), and seem more middle class than working class – which might be, in part, because I am in the more expensive seats. The ultras have impressive banners throughout the stadium.

There is a small group of away supporters, I guess a few hundred, tucked away in the top corner of the stadium. They have made an almost 370 km hike south. They also have several banners, though they are hard to see.

The game starts pretty well for the home side, which creates a couple of soft changes, but becomes a bit sloppy. That leads to a couple of great Vitória counter attacks, which are hard to see, however, because it takes quite a while before the smoke of the fans’ fireworks at the start of the game cleared off.

The players are technically good, tactically ok, but the final pass is lacking. This leads to pretty good combinations between the two goal areas but very few good chances. Sporting has most of the ball, and pressure, while Vitória is happy to counter attack.

In the 35th minute Sporting has a good cross from the left, the Dutch striker Dost heads it back, and Ruiz finishes from 7 meters: 1-0 for the home team. This remains the score in the first half, which ends with a good Sporting attack, but the low shot in the corner is saved at the last minute.

The second half starts poorly, with many small fouls and poor passing, which cause the game to never really take off. Sporting, which was the better side in the first half, seems not very motivated. In the 67th minute the have a good, fast attack over left, the ball is pulled back, but the low shot goes just wide. That will be almost everything they show that half.

Vitória gets more and more of the game, even if they continue to play counter-attacking football. In the 73rd minute they have their first good attack, but the shot goes just over. In the 76th they have a similar attack, now over right, ball is pulled back, and a cool finish draws the game: 1-1. Fully deserved.

After that Vitória is much closer to a win than Sporting and the home fans get increasingly frustrated. I am secretly hoping for a stunt, but Guimarães is too cautious to give Sporting the final stab and thus the final score is 1-1, which is almost flattering for the hosts.

All in all it was a good experience. While ultra-modern stadium like the Estádio José Alvalade are not really my thing, the atmosphere was good, and the fans were real. Moreover, Portuguese football is pretty affordable and quite decent, so you get value for your money. But don’t forget about the little teams!

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