Monday, August 13, 2012

Unlike Yugoslavia, Portugal promised no great future. By that time, the great years of Portuguese football were only distant memory and the country seemingly settled among the middle of the road nations in Europe. Even Benfica was no longer considered really dangerous opponent internationally. Back in the summer of 1976 there was little excitement: the Peruvian star Teofilo Cubillas left FC Porto and went home, joining Alianza (Lima). He was replaced by relatively unknown Brazilian – Duda. Thus, FC Porto depended on two Bazilian imports, the midfielder Ademir and Duda in attack. But the club recruited new coach – Pedroto, who led Boavista to two Cup victories the previous two years. Another big transfer was made by Sporting (Lisbon) – they got Salif Keita from Valencia (Spain). The star from Mali was already 30 years old and considerably in decline. His spell with Valencia was not a happy one, and probably Keita was hoping to come back in Portugal, but it was doubtful whether he would be able to make Sporting stronger team. More or less, the real strength of Sporting was their coach – Jimmy Hagan, the Englishman, who coached Benfica few years back. Benfica was also coached by British, continuing its own tradition, John Mortimore, so at least the Lisbon derby seemed to be a British battle of coaches. Unlike her rivals, Benfica depended on Portuguese squad. The Eagles had the odd African-born player, but their force was Portuguese stars. By names, Benfica had the best team, well balanced, competitive, and deeper than any other club. Which made the whole difference: Benfica confidently led through the championship, building bigger and bigger gap between themselves and the opposition. At the end, it was same old, same old... Benfica lost only 2 matches, winning 23. They had iron defense, letting only 24 balls in the net. Benfica finished 9 points ahead of the second placed club, collecting one more title.

So familiar... who else, but Benfica. Quite a bearded squad too, not to mention mustaches. Top row, from left: Diamantino,José António,Alberto,Eurico,Alhinho,Messias,José Domingos,José Luis,Bastos Lopes.

Middle row: Palhinhas(massag.)Romeu,Álvaro,Pietra,Bento,Artur,José Henrique,Barros,Ramos(massag.).

Sitting: Nélinho,Shéu,Toni,Nené,Vitor Martins,Moinhos,Chalana,Cavungi

Familiar names, combining experienced veterans, current stars, and bright new talent. Well, the club was the richest in Portugal, and had no problem collecting the top players. Bento and Henrique competed for the spot between the goalposts for both Benfica and Portugal. The rest were national players, but somewhat unlucky to play at that particular time: were they born a bit later, Diamantino and Sheu may had been bigger stars. Possibly Eurico too. But Toni and Nene perhaps would have been better off if born earlier... Good squad, but not really great one . However, there was a player for better future: Chalana. 18-years old, already on his third season with the first team, and getting really influential. His portrait here is strange – he does not look young at all. Certainly not under 20. Outside Portugal nobody heard of him yet, but there was plenty of time ahead of him.

Sporting finished second, so everything appeared normal and painfully familiar... but it was not. Sporting did not really challenged Benfica, but rather fought with FC Porto for the second spot. They won by a point, but it was not squad capable of more – Keita was practically the only recognizable star.

At least, there is some novelty in the photo above: the first sitting from left player has his socks covering his knees – a standard today, but highly exotic in the 1970s. Keita's rolled down socks were fashionable back then.

As for FC Porto, they ended with bronze medals. May be not bad at all for them at the time, but if anything they showed the vast division in Portuguese football: the 4th placed club ended 7 points behind the third and good 17 points less than the champions. Boavista was 4th, and considering that those were strong years for the club... it was obvious that as a whole Portuguese football was far from great. Porto was still building team and confidence – they were a bit green yet, but improving. If there was really a revelation this season, it came from Porto: Fernando Gomes was the topscorer of the league with 26 goals. He was to score a lot more yet, for he was just 20-years old.