Benfica’s in-form strikers Javier Saviola and Oscar Cardozo offer the classic goalscoring blend of towering target man and pacy predator. While their technique may differ, both are capable of finding the net from virtually any angle. Arguably the most dangerous partnership presently playing in Europe, the South American duo opened up to FIFA.com on the reasons for their success and the targets they have set themselves this season.
It is little wonder that Benfica’s supporters are dancing for joy. Their team is level on points with Braga at the top of the Liga Sagres and they have been fortunate enough to witness their free-scoring heroes find the net 44 times in 16 games, serving up a goals-per-game average only bettered in Europe by Dutch side Ajax. And it has been a series of crushing wins that has As Águias (The Eagles) soaring right now – the Lisbon side have chalked up nine victories by a five-goal margin or more, including an 8-1 thrashing of Vitoria de Setubal earlier in the season and a 5-0 rout of Maritimo on their most recent league outing. Moreover, the impact of Jorge Jesus’ free-scoring side has not been confined to Portugal, with Everton’s 5-0 Europa League defeat in the Estadio da Luz last October sending shockwaves around Europe.
Saviola back to his best
Benfica have netted no less than 70 times in the 28 official games played in all competitions. As with any successful side, every goal is invariably a product of selfless teamwork, but Benfica’s strike force are worthy of special mention. The South American duo have scored 36 goals so far, which represents more than half the team’s tally this term. Benfica supporters were already well aware of the threat posed by Cardozo, but Saviola’s return to form shows how comfortable he is back playing regular football following his pre-season move from Real Madrid.
In just six months, the player known as El Conejo (‘The Rabbit’) has achieved more than he did in two seasons at the Bernabeu and in his last season at Barcelona combined. The rejuvenated Argentinian has enjoyed more playing time, scored more league goals and – most importantly – has regained his confidence, as he explained to FIFA.com.
“Firstly, this is due to the faith Benfica’s directors and my coach Jorge Jesus have shown in me. You can’t score if you’re not playing, so I’m delighted that there are people who trust in my ability. I must also mention the fans. Their enthusiasm and the fantastic atmosphere they create is another reason why we’re doing well.”
Saviola has now found the net in seven consecutive matches, and with the FIFA World Cup™ on the horizon, he is being widely touted for an Argentina recall: “La Albiceleste have many talented players to choose from. I won’t deny that it’s an honour to play for my country, but ultimately that will be the coach’s decision. I would be delighted if selected, but I need to keep working away in the same manner for Benfica,” he said.
‘Tacuara’ shares the credit
The other half of the prolific partnership, Oscar Cardozo, is currently Benfica’s top marksman in the Liga Sagres with 15 goals to his name. However, the striker known as ‘El Tacuara’ (Guarani for ‘The Bamboo Tree’; a reference to his impressive height) knows an accomplished forward line is nothing without a creative midfield and a solid defence behind it. “These statistics tell me I’m doing my job properly but I’m also aware that it’s a team game and that my goals are the fruit of all our labours,” Cardozo modestly pointed out. The Paraguayan target man was also quick to pay tribute to the fans: “They have become our twelfth man – they really have played a crucial role over the last few months.”
As a mainstay of the Paraguayan national team that so brilliantly qualified for South Africa 2010, Cardozo was clear about his end-of-season targets: “I’d be satisfied if Benfica won the title and we were able to extend our run in Europe for as long as possible. As for Paraguay, I actually think we’re among the best teams in the world and I’d love to go all the way in South Africa. That’s got to be every player’s dream,” the centre-forward concluded.