The Portuguese are a compassionate bunch. For example when their bullfights end, the wounded beast is led away to be put out of its misery in private. The season so far has been a bullfight for Sporting Lisbon to say the least, currently sitting fourth in the Portuguese Liga, 20 points adrift from bitter rivals Benfica and far from securing a place in Europe next season. However after setting up a glamour tie with Atletico Madrid in the last 16 following their disposal of Everton, a hope of saving the season could come in the form of the Europa League.
Sporting have a long and successful history spanning over 100 years, winning 18 league titles and reaching a Uefa cup final, but so far this year they have been nothing short of a shambles. Despite their indifferent league form, Sporting have strung together some impressive performances in their European campaign so far, which has seen them top their group (consisting of Hertha Berlin, Heerenveen and Ventspils) with 11 points from their six games, before brushing aside Everton following a convincing second leg home display. Everton manager David Moyes payed tribute to an emphatic Sporting performance after the game: ‘We didn’t play well enough, Sporting got a grip of the game and put us under pressure from the start.’ However their home attendence continues to diminish, with just over 17,000 seeing their side progress through to the next round; it seems that even the fans are beginning to lose faith in their side and manager Costinha, making their tricky last 16 encounter with Atletico Madrid even more pivital in the outcome of the season.
The reasons for the lack of form are unclear,with an average age of 26, Costinha has found the balance between youth and experience in his Portuguese dominated side. Sporting combine pace, power and goalscoring pedigree throughout their lineup, boasted by internationals such as Moutinho, Liedson, Veloso and future prospect Djalo.
Similar to rivals Benfica, Sporting have a big history as far as European Football is concerned and no doubt they will be looking to better their Uefa cup run of 2008, which saw them reach the quarter finals, only to lose out to Rangers. Sporting continue their persuit of European glory in the round of 16 a week today, facing a difficult first legged away tie in Madrid, making an away goal vital. They go into the tie with an air of confidence though, following an impressive 3-0 league win over Porto less than a week ago and aware of their opponents’ temperamental home form in Europe this season. They will no doubt be looking to recreate the glory days of the 40’s and 50’s, which saw them dominate European Football.
But what a way to win back fans and followers, by booking their place in the quarter finals. They go into the tie as 25/1 outsiders to win the tournament, behind both English clubs Fulham and Liverpool. It’s fair to say that as the tournament progresses, the competition is only going to get harder; but in my view they’re worth a pound of anyones money.