Aveiro- One year later the competition is finally complete. The inaugural edition of the Women’s League Cup in Portugal took about 13 months to play out, obviously this was due to the break out of the global COVID 19 pandemic in 2020 that shut down practically the entire world including football for months last year. Long gone and probably forgotten are the 3 group stage matches played last winter. The top 4 teams in the Liga BPI at the halfway point of the 2019/20 season qualified for this first edition of the competition and played a round robin. Benfica and SC Braga came out ahead of Sporting and of Futebol Benfica a.k.a Fofo after the group stage and earned their places in the final. Then football stopped.
Fast forward about a year and the League had finally set a date in late November to play that inaugural Final. The Municipal Stadium was selected as the stage, and then Benfica did something amazing, Benfica beat both Greek Champion PAOK and Belgian Champion Anderlecht(If not officially recognized as such, both teams were designated as their respective federations representative in the UEFA Women’s Champions League due to their position in the table at the time play was suspended) to advance to the Round of the 32 of Champions League. That historic accomplishment meant Benfica would be unable to play the League Cup final because it was scheduled for the same day they were to face Chelsea. So on Wednesday January 6 finally the opening in the fixture list was available and Benfica and Sporting Clube de Braga met in Aveiro to fight for the first edition of the Cup. No doubt you only get one chance to be the first name on a Cup and it was Benfica that made better of the rare opportunity by being far more efficient in front of goal and winning 3-0.
The match was played a good tempo with both teams looking for goals, the two sides match up like they always have as more or less even collectively. Braga are still the reigning champions in the Liga BPI having outlasted Sporting CP in the 2018/19, last season’s campaign was aborted due to COVID and while Benfica were top of the table and thus given the opportunity to play in the Champions League but they were not recognized as Champions. Benfica are however still the reigning Portuguese Cup holders from that same season (the 2019/20 Portuguese Cup Final will be played next Wednesday in the same location between the same sides) setting up this interesting final. As even as the sides are collectively, the difference so far in the 3 year history of this rivalry was again on full display Wednesday night and that is the difference in the individual quality of the key players on both sides in front of goal. That said, it can be argued that 21 centimeters may very well be the true difference between two different possible outcomes in the match.
In the first half Benfica appeared to of gone ahead on a set piece as Carole Costa at the far end of the top of the penalty area headed the ball in the direction of the goal onto the run of Catarina Amado. Celebrations were short lived, the referee’s assistant put her flag up for offside. VAR confirmed the call on the field showing Carole was offside by a mere 10 centimeters. Before the end of the half however the Lady Aguias would break the deadlock. A beautiful string of passes starting with Matilde Fidalgo finding Ana Vitoria at the top of the area and the Brazilian international “rainbowed” the ball over the Braga defender playing into the area to her compatriot Nycole Raysla who centered to a wide open and unmarked Cloe Lacasse and the Canadian taps it in to go ahead 1-0 before the interval.
In the second half the two teams continued to battle valiantly and Braga thought the had equalized on a beautiful inside of the right foot bending shot by Cindy König but a Goal Check by VAR invalidated the goal ruling the Braga’s German forward was 21 centimeters offside. Benfica dodge a bullet and minutes a some brilliant combination from Benfica ends with Ana Vitoria again as the catalyst. This time the “Number 10” kept the ball for herself and fired a right footed arrow along the ground into the far post past Marie Hourihan in Braga’s goal making it 2-0. Minutes later Braga’s Diana Gomes handles the ball in her penalty and Nycole converts the spot kick and Benfica will win 3-0 and add to their already impressive history in Women’s Football. In fact had the league been ruled as concluded last season rather aborted Benfica would today be the holder of all the Women’s Football titles in Portugal, at least until next week. That’s obviously not the case but it’s not out of reach either, if our girls can repeat victory against Braga next week and successfully retain the Portuguese Cup then new manager Filipa Patao will have added motivation for her players as the Championship Stage of the Liga BPI’s kicks off at the end of the month and winning the League would complete the feat of owning of every title in Portuguese. In the meantime the new edition of the League will kick off this weekend at the quarter final stage. Benfica will travel north to start their defense of the trophy in a match up against Albegaria before returning to Aveiro for the rematch with Braga. Catch the Podcast this weekend when I review this match in more detail and I’ll also give my thoughts on a few changes I’ve notice since Patao took over for Luis Andrade. If you want here my review of the home and away against Chelsea you can listen below!