OVER THE bank holiday weekend, which commemorated the Revolution on 25 April 1974, the Algarve was finally treated to a SuperLiga game, sadly absent from the region since Farense’s demise four years ago.
In the event, a team from the Algarve was not involved, a fact that did not prevent the Stadium of the Algarve being swamped in a sea of red. The largely obsolete state-of-the-art Euro 2004 venue had been chosen by Estoril to stage their home game against Benfica in order to maximise revenue from ticket sales, which are usually severely restricted by the size of their own small stadium.
In total, 30,000 came, over 2,000 more fans than witnessed the European Championships clash between Holland and Sweden last year, allowing Estoril to set a new ticket sales record. The small, relegation-threatened club took around 600,000 euros at the turnstiles, making the payment of 25,000 euros for the use of the venue more than worthwhile. On the downside, from an organisational point of view, tickets traded at over 150 euros on the black market and traffic problems, which had marred other high-profile matches at the Faro-Loulé site, continued to remain unresolved.
On the pitch, the game itself experienced similar difficulties, referee Hélio Santos losing the plot more often than not. Paulo Sousa’s speculative free-kick somehow found the back of the Benfica net after only eleven minutes to put the home side ahead and the championship – chasing visitors struggled thereafter. Senhor Santos decided to assist the Eagles in their efforts by sending off Estoril’s Rui Duarte after twenty-five minutes. However, the men in red failed to convert their numerical advantage into goals until deep into the second half when Luisão finished off a good move from close range to level the score. Estoril’s João Paulo, on the pitch barely 10 minutes, was then removed again, referee Santos waving a red card to leave Estoril with nine men. Mantorras finished the unfortunate hosts off shortly afterwards to give Benfica a 2-1 victory that left a bad taste in the mouth.
Top-class action had returned to the Algarve, albeit briefly. The occasion once more served to demonstrate the need for a team from the region to climb back to the highest level but medium term prospects are bleak. Olhão look to at least maintain their Liga da Honra status offering some hope for next season, but Portimão, Louletano, Farense, Imortal and Silves are all a long way from fulfilling that dream.