by CHRIS WRIGHT
January 14, 2009 will long live in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to be part of this special day.
As the hordes of Olhanense supporters gathered in Olhão to cheer the team coach as it left for the journey to Lisbon for the quarter-final of the Carlsberg League Cup against Benfica, little did they know that later that day they would be in the same stadium as two of the all time great footballers Eusébio and Diego Maradona.
Sixteen coaches packed with excited and noisy fans were given a police escort as the convoy approached the impressive Vasco da Gama bridge for the final 15 kms over the River Tejo and on to the magnificent Estádio da Luz.
The visiting supporters, waving their commemorative scarves, certainly made an impressive sight. The Record, the daily national football paper, praised the fans for their vociferous support which on occasions drowned out the home fans.
The impressive pre-match flying display by the Benfica eagle as it soared around the stadium was worth the admission money alone and when Maradona and Eusébio were introduced to the crowd a buzz of excitement echoed around the vast stadium.
The match was only five minutes old when Olhanense keeper Bruno Verissimo made a flying save to keep the scoresheet blank. With 13 minutes on the clock, Benfica were stunned when a long range shot from Bruno Mestre skidded off the greasy surface and rebounded from home keeper Moretto into the path of Olhanense’s centre-forward Djalmir who duly planted the ball into the back of the net.
Not many visiting teams score at the Stadium of Light yet alone have the audacity to take the lead.
SC Olhanense were not overawed and matched their illustrious hosts in all departments except when it came to finishing.
Midway through the first half Benfica showed how it should be done when Nuno Gomes fired home from the edge of the penalty area to level the score.
Four minutes later, Olhanense skipper Rui Duarte was penalised for a foul some 30 metres from goal and Jorge Ribeiro dispatched ball into the bottom right-hand corner to give Benfica the lead. The first 45 minutes had seen Olhanense have nine attempts on goal against Benfica’s eight.
The second-half was a different story with Benfica controlling the game. Their slick inter passing was making the visitors work hard, and in the 62nd minute Sidnei rose above the static Olhanense defence to head home Katsouranis’s cross.
Benfica then brought on 20 year-old Argentinian Di María and he will certainly have done enough to impress Diego Maradona when he scored a delightful individual goal in the 88th minute. Having beaten two defenders, he deftly chipped the keeper from an acute angle.
The final score of 4-1 flattered Benfica and SC Olhanense manager Jorge Costa can be proud of his team who can now concentrate on cementing their place at the top of Liga Vitalis and securing promotion to the top flight.
Who knows but a return visit to the Stadium of Light could well be on the cards for next season and if Olhanense can reproduce the form they showed in the first-half in Lisbon then they will do well.
On Sunday Olhanense travel to Gil Vicente, currently third, some seven points behind the leaders.