Porto Beats Benfica to Break the Tie at Top of Primeira Liga Table

Christopher Hall@@chriscospinsAnalyst IMarch 2, 2012

Rodriguez and Hulk would prove decisive for Porto
Rodriguez and Hulk would prove decisive for PortoAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Porto and Benfica came to today's match even on points at the top of Portugal's Primeira Liga.  Each team carried an identical 15-4-1 record. 

The only thing that separated the sides in the standings was Porto's slim edge in goal differential.

Porto starts fast

Benfica had yet to drop points at home; however, they came out sluggish. Or more to the point, Porto came out with guns blazing.

Givanildo Vieira de Souza's, "Hulk", first touch came within a hair's breadth of earning his side a penalty.  Replays showed the referee was right in not pointing to the spot, but it was a warning shot across Benfica's bow.

Just minutes later, the Porto star adjusted his aim and punished the home side. Hulk received the ball on the right wing, cut inside, and hammered the ball into the top corner at the keeper's near post.

1-0 Porto.

Hulk sleeps, Benfica takes advantage

Porto looked the dominant side for the first quarter hour. But Hulk went missing almost immediately after his opening goal. Porto would not rediscover their star man until it was nearly too late.

That allowed Benfica to get their feet under themselves for the first time in the game. As Hulk went missing, Benfica striker Óscar Cardozo began to put himself about.

In the 23rd minute, a ball crudely smashed skyward near midfield came down seven yards from the Porto goal to a solitary Cardozo. Perhaps put off by just how much time he had, Cardozo weakly played the ball into Porto keeper Helton Arruda's relieved gloves.

Benfica dominated the ball for the rest of the first half, but it looked like nothing would come of the possession as halftime approached. 

In fact, Porto almost extended their lead against the run of play. 

First, in the 37th minute when a Porto move ended with Benfica keeper Artur Moraes having to make two wonderful saves in quick succession. And later, when João Moutinho's free kick skimmed the top of Benfica's goal.

But as the half neared, a Benfica corner bounced out of the box, was fired back in, only for a deflection to drop the ball at Cardozo's feet. He refused to make a second mistake so close to goal and found the Porto net.


Second half starts the same way

Benfica looked strong coming out for the second half. Almost immediately, Nicolas Gaitán's dynamism down the right side was rewarded with a free kick about 35 yards from Porto's goal.

Pablo Aimar swung in a beautiful free kick that found Cardozo running free at the six yard box between two Porto defenders.  Cardozo headed it in for his second goal of the game.

2-1 Benfica.

Benfica's Oscar Cardozo scored two goals in loss
Benfica's Oscar Cardozo scored two goals in lossValerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Super substitute and the Return of Hulk

Benfica looked the more likely of the sides to put in another goal until the 58th minute. That's when Porto brought on 20 year old Colombian international James Rodriguez. Simultaneously, Porto's players seemed to remember that Hulk was roaming the right side of their attack.

Those two factors changed the game.

Suddenly the ball began finding its way to Hulk. Benfica's strategy against the big man appeared to be foul early, foul often. A yellow card for Benfica defender Emerson da Conceição would prove foreshadowing.

In the 64th, Benfica found themselves breaking toward goal in a 4-versus-1 situation. It was a golden opportunity they would squander and immediately be punished for.

A loose pass turned the ball over and Porto immediately pushed the other way. Rodriguez took possession near midfield and pushed the counter. 

A quick 1-2 near the top of the box with Fernando, and Rodriguez had the ball back with Benfica defenders closing in. 

But the youngster gave them no chance as he smashed a left footed drive into the net.


Benfica reaps what it sowed

Hulk came alive with the equalizer. Suddenly, Porto looked to their star and the ball began to find him. Momentum began to swing as Hulk found the game. Benfica's defenders continued to find the only way they could contain him was to foul.

At 76 minutes in, Hulk received a ball that he quickly pushed past Benfica's Emerson down the right side. Emerson slid in and brought him down. The referee produced yellow for the second time and sent Emerson to the locker room.

Benfica finds the end just not quite near enough

Porto exploited their man advantage. 

James Rodriguez played a pivotal role in midfield allowing them to move the ball where and when they chose. 

But the final whistle drew near without a winner.

Then with less than five minutes to play, a loose ball, a little flick from Rodriguez, and a late challenge gave Porto a free kick on the right side, 35 yards from goal.

The left-footed Rodriguez swung a beautiful ball into the area. 

As it dropped dangerously at the six yard box, Porto defender Maicon raced in. His head got to the ball a split second before Benfica's keeper got his punch to it.

3-2 Porto.

Final Whistle.

With 3 points to Porto, they now stand all alone at the top of the table.


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