Lisbon duo target Porto’s crown
Some things never change, and it would appear little can prevent Portugal's traditional big three clubs from dominating the domestic title race. A new campaign begins this Friday, 17 August, just six days after champions FC Porto missed out on the first title of the 2007/08 season by losing the curtain-raising Supertaca Candido de Oliveira to fierce rivals Sporting. However, both sides, along with Benfica, the third member of the all-powerful triumvirate, must do without key players as they contest the coveted league crown.
After all three teams were separated by just two points at the culmination of last season's championship showdown, Porto, Sporting and Benfica have all kept faith in their head coaches, while putting their hopes in promising youngsters to replace their departed star names.
Dragões hold the momentum
The pressure is on reigning champions FC Porto and their coach Jesualdo Ferreira, as the northern powerhouses seek to claim their third league title in succession. Following the loss of commanding centre-back Pepe to Spanish giants Real Madrid and Anderson to Manchester United, coach Ferreira will be need an even greater contribution from goalscoring midfielder Lucho Gonzalez and livewire attackers Ricardo Quaresma and Lisandro Lopez. Standing out from the whopping ten players brought in to strengthen the squad, 19-year-old Brazilian forward Leandro Lima has all the ingredients to become a star in Portuguese football.
Despite the big-name departures and the Supertaca reverse, Ferreira remains positive. "None of the new signings have let me down; they have adapted really well. It's a good squad and there's a very solid base. The new guys are ready and eager to get started, but only if they perform in training and in matches will they earn a regular starting place."
Benfica scouts, meanwhile, were clearly following the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 very closely, swooping in the aftermath of the elite competition to sign three promising young talents: USA's Freddy Adu, Argentina's Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao of Portugal. Even so, experienced coach Fernando Santos will surely struggle to replace the talismanic figure of Simao Sabrosa, now at Atletico de Madrid for a second spell in Spain's La Liga.
Adu, for his part, appears delighted to have finally made his long-speculated move to European football. "I get on really well with Manuel Fernandes and Rui Costa. They've helped me a lot, and given me plenty of good advice," enthused the star-struck youngster. "How many 18-year-old Americans are privileged to have someone like Rui Costa as their mentor?" wrote the Ghana-born forward in his internet blog. This just a few days prior to making his competitive bow for the Águias (Eagles) in the third preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League, Rui Costa scoring twice in a 2-1 win over FC Copenhagen.
Over on the green-and-white side of Lisbon, Sporting new boy Marat Izmailov announced his arrival with a stunning winner in the aforementioned Super Cup victory, going someway to softening the blow of flying winger Nani's transfer to Manchester United. Buoyed by their early trophy success, the Leões (Lions) and coach Paulo Bento continue to add new faces to their squad. Brazilian attacker Celsinho, 18, is expected to sign shortly from Lokomotiv Moscow, with Bento looking to pair the gifted youngster with fellow countryman and last season's league top scorer Liedson up front.
Away from the big three, Sporting Clube de Braga have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years, while fellow UEFA Cup entrants Belenenses and Pacos de Ferreira will look to maintain their upward progress and build on last season's success.
On the evidence of recent campaigns, Estrela da Amadora, Vitoria Setubal, Naval, Academica, Boavista, Maritimo and Uniao de Leiria appear set to battle it out in the table's middle reaches, although judicious work in the transfer market could trigger a European push.
History-laden Vitoria SC Guimaraes, meanwhile, have made a welcome return from exile in Portugal's second tier. Their main aim for 2007/08 may be top flight survival, but their fans will be hoping for the odd big name scalp along the way.
Fellow returnees to Portuguese football's top table are Leixoes SC, who have put their faith in well-respected strategist Carlos Brito. With a squad short on top level experience, Brito will need all his tactical nous to keep relegation fears at bay.
Friday, 17 August
Sporting - Academica
Saturday, 18 August
Maritimo - Pacos de Ferreira
Nacional - Estrela Amadora
Sporting Braga - FC Porto
Leixoes - Boavista
Sunday, 19 August
Vitoria Guimaraes - Vitoria Setubal
Uniao Leiria - Boavista
Monday, 20 August
Naval - Belenenses