Franky Vercauteren’s debut-Another Sporting Loss

Sporting took a trip to the Estadio do Bonfim to play Vitoria Setubal in what was Franky Vercauteren’s coaching debut, a struggling Sporting that failed to capitalise on opportunities, which ended in another loss. With the loss, Sporting drop to 13th place with 7 points, 13 points off leaders FC Porto and Benfica, 1 point from the relegation zone.

Aside from a few of the players, Vercauteren didn’t really change up the formation, Sporting started with a 4-3-3 with Izmailov pressing up the pitch to create somewhat of a 4-2-3-1. Insua at LB, Xandao and Rojo at CB, Cedric at RB, Rinaudo at CDM, with Schaars and Izmailov next to him, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel with the start at Striker again, flanked by Jeffren and surprisingly, Zakaria Labyad.

The first half as usual saw a stuttering Sporting fail to maintain any consistency in attack, Jeffren proved to be the only threat with a few solid shots that were saved by Vitoria keeper Pawel Kieszek. Vitoria Setubal’s Pedro Santos scored in the ’27 minute after a great ball threaded the Sporting defense. In the ’42 minute, Jeffren’s hard work finally payed off with a great finish from a Stijn Schaars pass, leveling the score at 1.

The second half saw Sporting take control of the game, pressure mounted on Vitoria Setubal who were pressed in their own half. A wicked shot by Insua stung the fingers of Kieszek, followed by a shot off a corner kick by Izmailov right down the middle of the goal.

In the ’68 minute, Sporting’s defense decided to take a nap, Cedric wasn’t watching his man, that’s when Meyong Ze ran right by everyone and struck a shot into the left hand corner of the net, Sporting stunned and looked defeated already.

Things started to look up for Sporting in the ’75 minute when Miguel Lourenço was given a straight red card after a horrible cleat to shin tackle on Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Setubal down to 10 men. Subsequently, Vercauteren thought it a good idea to bring on the more attack minded Elias in place of Rinaudo and Valentin Viola on for the fairly ineffective Zakaria Labyad.

In the final 10 minutes Sporting pushed for an equalizer, Jeffren had another great opportunity to score in the ’82 minute, again a huge save by Setubal’s Kieszek. In the ’86 “B” team striker Bentinho was brought on in (in place of Izmailov) Vercauteren’s last role of the die. In the final minutes, Sporting seemed to be camping just outside Setubal’s 18 yard box, shot after shot being thwarted by Ney Santos who had an incredible game for Setubal at the back, followed by a horribly scuffed shot from Ricky which was his best opportunity of the night.

The game ended 2-1 for Vitoria Setubal, again, that’s 14 games (including Europa League matches) and only 2 wins. The nightmare continues for Sporting, Franky Vercauteren certainly has A LOT to do. I’d like to point out that with the   loss, it’s clear that Sporting’s problems don’t necessarily lay with the coaching, in my opinion it’s more to do with the understanding on the pitch, these players just don’t seem to know how to play together, that shouldn’t be all on the coaching staff, as professionals they should be able to work this out themselves, unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.

Sporting’s next match is a Europa League group stage match on Thursday November 8th 3:05pm EST vs Racing Genk at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, a win is vital for survival in this competition.


Sporting tie Academica

Another unconvincing display from Sporting at home, more dropped points, in what was Oceano Cruz’s last game (this time for real) at the Alvalade.

Sporting on Monday night hosted mid table side Academica de Coimbra. Coach Oceano Cruz once again deployed a 4-3-3 with Insua at left back, boulahrouz and Rojo at centre back, and started Arias over Cedric at right back. In midfield nothing was changed with Rinaudo being flanked by Schaars and Adrien Silva. On the wings were Pranjic and Viola and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel at striker.

Sporting started off very well, controlling the pace of the game not allowing Academica much time on the ball. Unfortunately, most of the first half involved typical wing play with high hopeful crosses into the box that Ricky was unable to reach, only two decent shots were mustered by Valentin Viola. Positive notes include the great movement by Rinaudo once again from defense to attack, he moved all over the pitch breaking up plays and tried his best to supply the forwards but to no avail. Defense looked fairly stable, with the exception of a few bad passes from Rojo and Boulahrouz (who has yet to convince me that he can be a starter for this team).

In the second half, Arias was subbed off for Gelson Fernandes (in the ’46 minute) and for a short while, Sporting played with Rinaudo and Gelson as the holding midfielders which allowed Silva and Schaars to push further up. As the half progressed Sporting hit a proverbial wall thus, in the ’58 minute, SIlva was replaced by Marat Izmailov in the hopes that his superior offensive ability could spark something. All was going in Sporting’s favour until the ’70 minute when Boulahrouz picked up a hamstring injury and was forced to leave the game, “B” team striker Betinho was brought on which really changed Sporting’s shape. Gelson dropped back to RB, Rojo at centre back, Insua at LB, Rinaudo dropped even deeper almost to centre back, which allowed Izmailov and Schaars to supply the balls to the widemen Pranjic and Viola, Ricky and Bentinho stayed up front. 

Right away with less pressure on Ricky, he was able to free up some space for himself and tested the Academica keeper Ricardo in the ’76 minute. Then, Wilson Eduardo (the Sporting Loanee) was subbed on for Academica which immediately provided them with some life in attack, suddenly, Academica were much faster and came close to scoring on several occasions.

In the final ten minutes of the game, the faster Sporting attack began to press more and more, Sporting were coming closer and were finally generating some shots in the final third of the pitch. Ricky picked up a foolish yellow in the ’86 for simulation in the box. In stoppage time, Sporting had their best chances of the game, Pranjic blasted a shot from outside the box which resulted in a juicy rebound, the ball was played to Ricky who lost control to a defender, and in controversial fashion seemed to play a pass back to keeper Ricardo, the referee ignored the situation and the game was ended at a 0-0 draw.

There isn’t much else to say about this game, Sporting simply were not good enough. I had a few qualms about the player selections, in particular I didn’t like the fact that Viola started over Andre Carrillo, he is in my opinion one of the most talented on the team and needs to play in order to develop. Diego Capel was also not utilized, he could’ve proved very effective in the second half instead of Pranjic. I also feel that with the players Sporting have, perhaps a different formation could be used. Something akin to a 4-2-3-2 with Rinaudo and Schaars/Gelson has the holding midfielders, Silva, Izmailov and Capel/Pranjic as the more advanced Midfielders and Carrillo/Ricky the strikers. Too often, Ricky is left alone up front and all we try to do is cross the ball into him, teams pick up on this quickly, not to mention we make it easier for them because of our limited movement through the middle of the park. With the point, Sporting move up the 10th place in the league with a record of 1 win, 4 draws, and 2 losses.

Alright, I’m finished ranting for the night, hopefully Franky Vercauteren can turn things around next Sunday when we go up against Vitoria Setubal. 

Sporting Lose in Belgium

In today’s Europa League action, Sporting went up against Genk of the Belgian Pro League in what was “B” team manager Oceano Cruz’s last game in charge.

Sporting started the game off well, after surviving an early scare in the opening minutes, Dutch Midfielder Stijn Schaars scored off a half volley (in the ‘8 minute) just as Genk partially cleared Sporting’s corner attempt. After the goal, both teams traded blows with Sporting trying to establish more control in the midfield. In the 25’ minute, Sporting conceded a corner and once again in what seems like an everlasting problem, Genk scored to notch the game up at one. As the first half progressed, Sporting was getting a bit more antsy which resulted in some challenges that should’ve been otherwise avoided, Rinaudo picked up a yellow for a harsh takle as well as Boulahrouz. A side not on Rinaudo, as much as I love the way he bosses the midfield, he can be a bit too “Gattusoesque” at times, lunging into tackles. 

The second half saw Sporting start to dominate possession, there was plenty of movement on and off the ball and not just on the wings which is typical when Jeffren starts, but even in the middle of the park with Adrien Silva, who by the way played outstanding, playing passes behind Genk’s back line and making advancing runs himself all game. In the 58′ minute, Capel was brought on for Pranjic which led to much more movement up the left side of the pitch which is usually what happens with Capel seeing as how he never seems to tire. In the 61′ minute, Jeffren was replaced by Valentin Viola, which was a great move by Cruz because up until that point, Jeffren wasn’t doing too much, passing when he should have shot, dribbling when he should have crossed, etc, also, it gave Ricky Van Wolfswinkel more freedom up front, too often he is left alone with not support. 

Just when everything was going well for Sporting, centreback Khalid Boulharouz decided instead of moving his feet some more he would pull back the Genk attacker, which was a very cynical foul, a second yellow for him and off he went. Thanks for that…

Sporting knew a win was pretty much vital in order to have any hope of progressing, thus, they pushed on even more. In doing so, they gave up a corner off a counter attack in the ’88 minute, and AGAIN! due to horrible marking, they are scored on; I wasn’t sure what Insua was doing on this play, he just had his hands on his crotch the whole time. In the dying minutes, Van Wolfswinkel won a corner for us which would be our last effort of the game, in vain.

Seeing as how I am a fairly optimistic fan, I see the end of this game as a beginning of a new era, Franky Vercauteren will assume his role as coach on Monday vs Academica de Coimbra. A few quick notes, Sporting once again didn’t play terribly, aside from the bad marking on both corner goals, we created chances, moved the ball well, and were fairly solid in our formation, hopefully we can build upon performances like this and string some wins together, starting Monday. 

Boa Noite!


Bem Vindo Franky Vercauteren!

On Wednesday October 24, 2012 Sporting CP finally ended their search for a new coach and signed Belgian François (“Franky”) Vercauteren. The 55 year old had previously parted ways with Al Jazira Club of the UAE this past summer, and before that enjoyed great success with R.S.C. Anderlecht and Genk of the Belgian Pro League winning 3 league championships ( two with Anderlecht and one with Genk). From my source via Twitter, (@TheBelgianWffle) Vercauteren is, and I quote, “a good motivator, but not the man to solve Sporting’s mess.” Naturally, this quote doesn’t calm my nerves about the Belgian, we know he is experienced as a player and coach but it’s one thing to win a few championships in Belgium and another to coach one of the biggest clubs in European football history and Portugal (especially considering the high expectations the Alvalade have).

All in all, before I condemn Godinho Lopes for this selection, it is only fair to allow Franky some time to adjust to the Portuguese style of play and way of life, unfortunately, time is something he doesn’t have to much of seeing as how his contract lasts from October 30th to June 30th, 2013. Vercauteren will certainly have his work cut out for him, let’s hope he can provide the spark that this team desperately needs.

Ate ja!

Sporting, much to my surprise, still had not secured the services of a new coach, and thus, “B” team manager Oceano Cruz continued to lead Sporting on this interim basis.

The stage was set on Sunday evening for Sporting to put behind them their horrid start to the Primeira Liga season. The Taça de Portugal’s third round fixture between Sporting and minnows Moreirense, once again, ended in a Sporting loss, easily the toughest of the season to take. Sporting started off with a bang when Midfielder Fabian Rinaudo scored in the 7th minute to give “The Lions” the early lead. From that point on, the Sporting roller coaster decided it was going for a ride. Two fantastic strikes later in the first half by Pablo Oliveira gave Moreirense the 2-1 lead going into halftime.

After the break, I’m assuming Sporting decided it wanted to play because they took control of the game. Little by little, the midfield superiority of Sporting began to boss the game, and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel was being supplied a lot more. After typically frustrating play in the final third from Sporting, Van Wolfswinkel pounced on a loose ball in the Moreirense box and tied the game at two in the ’79 minute, Ricky came inches away from scoring a second minutes later which would have won the game for Sporting, but it was not to be, off to extra time they went.

In extra time, Sporting continued right where they had left off and played with power and purpose. Unfortunately, in the ’97 minute, Moreirense’s Wagner scored on the counter leaving Sporting with little hope to progress. In the proceeding minutes, Sporting pressed and pressed for a late equaliser, a struck post and a volley headed off the line proved it was not to be Sporting’s day.

Remember folks, this was the same team that reached the cup final last year…amazing how a team can fall so far, so quickly. If sporting want to salvage anything from this season, a new coach must be hired in the next couple of weeks at most. Personally, it saddens me as a fan to watch this team lose the way it has been. The team lacks heart at times, especially in the first half, instead of playing controlling football for the whole game, we score, sit back, and allow sloppy defensive errors.

I’ll leave you all with some highlights below…

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Atlantic Ocean

Coaching Developments for Sporting

Don’t worry Sportinguistas, we are moving closer to finding a new “treinador.” Earlier today, several Portuguese papers had reported former Olympiakos coach, Ernesto Valverde might be closer to signing. “O jogo” reported that they are in talks however, Valverde’s agent could be playing hardball. What I like about Valverde is that he brings success to a team that desperately requires some, he has, like I mentioned in an earlier post, won 3 Greek championships and 2 Greek cups.

Unfortunately, Portuguese site Futebol 365 reported that Scolari said “Vou repetir pela segunda vez: vou a Lisboa em promoção do Mundial-2014. Não vou negociar com nenhum clube.” Which basically translates to “I’m going to say again, I’m going to Lisbon to promote the 2014 world cup in Brazil. I’m not going to negotiate with any club.” I was really looking forward to having Scolari as our new coach, but for whatever reason this will not be so.

Update to follow in coming days….

Road to Brasil 2014-Portugal v Russia Preview

This Friday “A Selecção” will play their third 2014 World Cup qualifying match versus a tough Russian team at the Luzhniki Stadium (in Moscow) at 11:00 EST, 16:00 local time in Portugal.

Portugal are coming off two wins, the first was a 2-1 win over Luxembourg and the second, a 3-0 win over Azerbaijan. Russia, under new coach Fabio Capello (Yes, English readers, that guy)  are also coming off two wins in which they have yet to concede a goal. A 2-0 win over Northern Ireland and a 4-0 win over Israel see them a top of group F.

I must admit, I will not be surprised if Portugal lose this game. They will be going up against a squad who pretty much all ply their trade in the Russian league, meaning they know each other very well, throw in the frigid temperatures and hostile crowd and you have a recipe for a Portuguese stew. Russia do have dangerous players, one of whom is Aleksandr Kerzhakov, the Zenit St. Petersburg front man is agile, strong, and a clinical finisher who will score if the Portuguese defense aren’t on their game.

In terms of the starting lineup and formation, I wouldn’t expect too many surprises. Paulo Bento will most likely employ something like a 4-3-3, having Miguel Veloso drop deep while defending to form a 4-1-2-3. Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe did sustain light injuries in their match vs Barcelona this past weekend, so starting for them is still up in the air, personally, I can’t see Ronaldo missing a game of this magnitude, but Pepe’s thigh injury might prove too much to handle. In which case, look for Bento to start Miguel Lopes (who has been in good form with SC Braga) along side Bruno Alves, with João Pereira and Fábio Coentrão at right and left back respectively. Veloso at DM,  João Moutinho and Raul Meireles at CM, with Ronaldo and Nani on the wings, flanking the most likely starting striker of Helder Postiga. A quick thought on Postiga; a lot of fans criticise  his technical ability and goal scoring prowess. I beg all you Postiga haters to actually WATCH him play, he always gives 110% and has 22 goals in 55 appearances. Which, according to my math is a 40% strike rate, not exactly astounding numbers but it will do until Nelson Oliveira matures a bit more. Oliveira can be a little too hasty and tries a bit too hard at times, remember it’s not always what a player does with the ball, but, what he does off the ball that goes a long way in a manager’s eyes.

The Portuguese, man for man are more solid than Russia without a doubt (with the exception of the  striker position). We know they can score and easily take control of the midfield with the vision and calmness of João Moutinho,

 and the “never say die” attitude of Raul Meireles. In order for Portugal to succeed, they must maintain possession and snuff out any counter attacks the Russians will attempt, a tough task indeed for Miguel Veloso. If Ronaldo, doesn’t end up playing or is limited to action, Nani must step up. Nani to me, is a player with immense skill and potential, he just can be a little lazy at times, as well as makes some odd passing choices. If there is a game for Nani to shine, it’s this one.

The game should be fast paced, especially with the artificial turf at the Luzhniki Stadium. I predict the Russians to score first, but look for Portugal to eventually take control and ware down the Russian defense in a 2-1 hard fought win. Força Portugal!