Benfica are the Portuguese champions for 2009/10, after a campaign that brought back memories of the club’s great sides of generations past. Playing fine attacking football and scoring goals aplenty, coach Jorge Jesus’ charges left everyone trailing far in their wake with the exception of Braga, who produced their finest ever top-flight performance but still fell just shy of denying As Águias a 32nd league crown.
It was Benfica’s 2-1 home win over Rio Ave on Sunday which finally saw off the challenge of Os Arsenalistas, who had doggedly kept up their pursuit until the final day. Tens of thousands of fans quickly swarmed the streets of Lisbon in celebration, joyous scenes that were repeated by Benfica fans in towns across much of Portugal and the world. Indeed, there were victory parties for Portugal’s best-supported and most-decorated club in places as disparate as France, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Macau and even the United States.
Though they may have won more league titles than any other Portuguese club, Os Encarnados had finished national champions on just three occasions in the previous two decades – a period during which northern heavyweights Porto have largely held sway. But under the guidance of coach Jesus, in his first season at the helm, Benfica’s points tally and goals per game record were superior to their previous Liga success under Giovanni Trapattoni in 2004/05, as well Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2002/03.
The leading men
Scintillating attacking play proved vital, with Benfica hitting a hugely impressive 78 goals at a ratio of 2.6 per match. Leading the way was Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo, whose brace on the final day of the campaign took his personal haul to 26, one clear of Porto’s Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao in the race for the top scorers’ honours.
Aiding and abetting Cardozo were a rejuvenated Javier Saviola, who would surely have added to his 11 goals and four assists were it not for missing much of the run-in through injury, livewire winger Angel Di Maria (five goals, 11 assists) and the class and creativity of fellow Argentinian Pablo Aimar (four and eight). Nor should we forget the tireless contributions of Brazil’s Ramires, the positional sense of Javi Garcia at the base of midfield and the talent and versatility of Portuguese trio Ruben Amorim, Carlos Martins and Fabio Coentrao.
Also proving integral cogs in Jesus’s much-vaunted tactical system were Brazil international central defender Luisao and his countryman David Luiz, with the latter’s fine displays at both centre- and left-back keeping his dream of breaking into A Seleção very much alive. Just 20 goals conceded in 30 games was ample proof of this overall defensive solidity, a record shared with Braga, who came mighty close to upsetting Portugal’s established order.
Indeed, Os Minhotos’ final tally of 71 points in their bid for a first ever national title would have been enough to have them finish top of the pile in any of the previous five seasons. Benfica held firm, however, and Domingos Paciencia’s charges will have to make do with a first ever appearance in the qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League in 2010/11.
Maritimo clinch Europa spot
The final spot on the podium went to Porto, winners of the past four championships. Though Os Dragões were unable to extend their league dominance, they did begin the 2009/10 campaign with victory in the domestic Supercup. They are also expected to add the Portuguese Cup to their already bulging trophy cabinet by beating final opponents Desportivo de Chaves, who have just suffered relegation from the country’s second tier.
Runners-up for the previous four seasons, Sporting Lisbon had a season to forget when finishing in fourth spot and 28 points behind Benfica. Os Leões did seal a berth in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League, however, with Maritimo clinching fifth place and the last available spot in continental competition by beating fellow contenders Vitoria de Guimaraes on the final day.