Thursday, November 13, 2014

Spain & Portugal November 2014

Two Champions League matches in Spain followed by four games in northern Portugal.

4th November 2014  Real Madrid 1 Liverpool 0   Champions League  79,283 (c. 3,000 away)

I took the Easyjet route from Gatwick to Madrid together with a number of other football fans.

Pre-game in Spain is usually tapas and beer - and so it was for your correspondent.

This kind of match attracts visitors from around Europe and tends to highlight the globalisation of the Champions (and Premier) League.
So you’ll find Real and LIverpool fans from various countries converging on the ever-impressive Bernabeu.

Ever-impressive it no doubt is but you can’t help feeling it takes a lot to get animated.

Even the ultras section, high up to the left, should surely have more such fans.
However they did provide a nice touch for the visiting fans opposite with a banner welcoming ‘great fans from a great club’.

But if I’d made a trip just for this match I would have been disappointed.
Firstly with the ‘reserve’ team that coach Rodgers put out and secondly with the misfiring Real team.

Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps fretting about Raul’s goalscoring record, was off-key.
And despite the prompting of Modric and Kroos Real couldn’t convert apart from the one first half goal by Benzema from an excellent Marcelo cross.

Often CR7 and co. seemed to shoot straight at Mignolet.

Welsh star Bale made a lively appearance and he did hit the bar but ultimately one was enough for Los Blancos to move through to the next phase of the competition.

Liverpool looked like being thrashed however they defended well to restrict one of the favourites to that one goal.
Whether the coach’s decision to play such a relatively weak team will come back to bite him will be decided in due course.

On a cool night in the capital the stadium heaters made some difference but the persistent wind tended to nullify the warmth.
So I made a brisk walk back to the metro and I was in my hotel by 11.20pm.

5th November  Athletic Bilbao 0 Porto 2  Champions League  47,243 (c. 1,200 away)

Some five hours on the train north from the capital to the Basque country.

Where Athletic now play in the impressive new San Mames situated close to the site of the old stadium and a reasonably short walk from my central hotel.

The club clearly identify closely with their city and the local people but you can’t help feel, in an age of globalisation, that they are at a continual disadvantage with their persistent (although admirable) policy of recruiting and nurturing Basque-only players.

In contrast the visitors not only had no players from Porto in their starting eleven they had none from Portugal either.

Colombian Jackson Martinez, much coveted by Premier League clubs and Algerian Brahimi proved the attacking stars of a solid and well organised Porto side.
Martinez could even miss a first half penalty (much to the crowds delight) and still look a standout performer.

Sadly we didn’t hear enough of the home support as Bilbao struggled to create chances, eventually succumbing to some magic from Brahimi and a severe goalkeeping error.

The result left the home side on one point and Porto, likely to be a decent test for many of the favoured teams, a confirmed place in the next phase.

On a rainy night, as is often the case, it poured down at the end of the game for the walk back to the hotel.

I spent the next day travelling to Vigo (just the eleven hours on the train) for an overnight stop before getting the bus to Porto.

7th November Arouca 1 Vitoria Guimaraes 2  Portuguese Premier  c. 1,500 (c.400 away)

Arouca are one of the smaller sides in the Portuguese Premier and their location (in my case via a twisting but very scenic road from Castelo de Paiva) is not the easiest to reach.
Many of the Guimaraes fans arrived late.

When the visiting fans did finally congregate they filled up a large part of one side and provided excellent support for their team.

Early on the home side clipped the bar and they would do the same later on via the sweet left foot delivery of Tinoco.
However the opening goal, from Arouca, came from a right foot free kick diverted in by Diego.

That sparked Vitoria into action and they finished strongly, equalising from a Josue header before scoring the winner in the final minute after Hernani followed up a goalkeeper parry.

The result took Vitoria to the top of the Portuguese league albeit only for a couple of days.

8th November  Pedras Salgadas 1 Santa Maria 0  Nacional  c. 200

This third level match was played at Vila Pouca de Aguiar in a ground comprising one decent sized stand.

It had few exciting moments.

By far the best being the 30 yard strike from Pedras midfielder Joao Fernandez that decided the outcome.
None of the rest came close to matching that effort.

Santa Maria didn’t endear themselves to this observer having turned up late causing the match to be delayed by 45 minutes (The visitors went through the usual lengthy warm-up despite the delay)

9th November  Chaves 0 Benfica B 0  Segunda  c. 2,000 (c. 20 away)

I stayed in Chaves prior to this 11.15am Sunday kickoff.

The old town is atmospheric, especially when they have power cuts when it becomes particularly spooky.

The Chaves home ground, near to fortifications, has some old terrace/seats at either end.
At one end were around 20 Benfica fans.

Most of the rest of us were in the main stand.
To watch a predictably well coached Benfica B team fail to create many chances.

Both sides are well placed in the second division but it was Chaves who looked like winning in a dramatic conclusion.
Firstly the speedy Issoko missed a good opportunity before a home forward seemed to be brought down in the area.

However the referee considered otherwise prompting much protest and a red card for one the home substitutes.

Late drama but no goals.

Followed by about an hour and a half drive to Moreira de Conegos for the afternoon game.

9th November  Moreirense 0 Belenenses 1  Premier  c. 1000 (c. 50 away)

Another small town team that has a neat stadium resplendent in white.

On a fairly cool day in northern Portugal this match lacked excitement until the second half.
When the home side stepped up the pace but couldn’t achieve a breakthrough.

That would come near the end when a defensive error resulted in the Moreirense goalie bringing down a visiting player.
Substitute Tiago Silva converted the penalty for the victory.

Which was tough on the home side whose wide man, Gerso, looked a decent prospect.

Player names provided a particular interest as we nearly had Pele and Maradona in the same game.

Pele did play in midfield for Belenenses but inevitably didn’t live up to that moniker.
And Marafona (OK not quite Maradona) was in goal for the home side.

While Bruno China captained the visitors who also had an English goalie (Matt Jones)

But overall we could have had more excitement.

More pictures at

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