This season in Portugal has seen the re-emergence of Portugal’s most successful club team Benfica at the top of the league, and their fantastic form to date has been widely down to the South American spine of their team. There is an abundance of talent throughout the side including highly rated Argentine winger Angel Di Maria, but it is the little and large partnership between Oscar Cardozo and the rejuvenated Javier Saviola that has seen Benfica hit a devastating 59 goals in their 22 games, with the front two scoring 29 between them.
Saviola has finally found his feet again, and has notched 11 times this season, making him the third highest scorer in the league. However, it is the form of Paraguayan forward Cardozo that has taken most of the plaudits, with a phenomenal 18 strikes from 19 starts making him the leading scorer in Portugal. He has not had it all his own way though as fellow South American Radamel Falcao is hot on his trail with 17 goals from his 19 starts, which has seen a two-horse race emerge for the Golden Boot Award.
As mentioned Saviola is next in line with 11 goals thus far, but with Cardozo on penalty and free kick duty for Benfica, it would be a hard task for the little Argentinian to out-gun his strike partner with only 8 games remaining. Sporting Lisbon’s leading marksman Liedson has found the net 10 times in the league, and it would be a massive ask for him to overhaul Cardozo or Falcao. Although if he can continue his recent vain of form he might fancy his chances. After striking for Portugal in their midweek friendly against China, he amazingly scored all 4 of Lisbon’s goals at Belenenses at the weekend. Further displays like that would certainly keep the big two on their toes.
Nevertheless it is fitting that the accolade of top-dog should boil down to a head to head between Cardozo and Falcao. Things could have been so different for the pair as Falcao came within a whisker of signing for Benfica in the summer, but a late snag allowed for Porto to steal in at the eleventh hour and get their man. Falcao had previously stated, “Going to Benfica would be beautiful” meaning that the Columbian’s eventual move to title rivals Porto was a bitter blow for The Eagles.
Falcao has adapted immediately to the Portuguese game and has perfectly filled the void left by Lisandro Lopez’s big money move to Lyon. Apart from his impressive league tally – which saw him score consecutively in Porto’s opening four league games, Falcao has been a big hit in the cup competitions with a return of 3 goals in his 2 Taça de Portugal games. Not to mention his 4 goals in the Champions League, including his recent controversial strike against Arsenal that has left their chances of a Quater-Final place firmly in the balance.
The 24 year old has showcased his dynamic pace and deadly finishing, qualities that El Tigre previously displayed at River Plate to earn him his big chance in Europe. In Argentina, Falcao scored 19 times in 35 games in 07/08 and he continued his good run the following season with 16 goals in 38 games. He has wasted no time in becoming a firm favourite among the Porto fans this season, and if he can keep up his near goal per game ratio then he will certainly push Cardozo to the wire for the Golden Boot.
Benfica’s loss in not siging Falcao has arguably been Cardozo’s gain, and he is quickly reminding Benfica of the quality he possesses. ‘Tacuara’ has enjoyed success in his Benfica career so far with 13 league goals from 29 games in 07/08, and an improved return of 17 goals in 26 games last season. But this season has been his best yet. Cardozo hit the ground running in pre-season with 8 goals in 10 games and he is already enjoying his best ever competitive campaign with 26 goals in 31 appearances. The 6ft 4 frontman is good in the air, but he is capable of scoring every type of goal, and it is his thunderous left foot that has been consistently catching the eye.
The Paraguayan has hit 3 hat-tricks this season, and has found the net from the penalty spot on 5 occassions. In a World Cup year where his national coach Gerardo Martino recently backed Cardozo as, “one of the big names in world football” as well as Benfica being in pole position to win the Liga Sagres, Cardozo has flourished under the expectancy and you get the feeling that it might just be Tacuara’s year.
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