ALGARVE FOOTBALL

Derby time!

JANUARY SAW what was, without doubt, the Algarve’s biggest match of the year, Liga da Honra mid-table neighbours Portimonense and Olhanense fighting out the unofficial regional championship in Portimão. The visitors had won the opening match of the season 2-1 at home, but, at that time, Portimonense were still re-adjusting after being told, at short notice, that they had not been relegated after all. The only other time the two teams met at this level was during the 1991/92 season, both games resulting in draws, 0-0 and 1-1. Portimonense, who have formulated a five-year plan to revive the glorious 80s which saw the club play in the UEFA Cup, went into the match on the back of three successive victories – their best spell of the season. Olhão intend to gain promotion within three seasons and many observers believe that Paulo Sérgio’s team is already one of the most technically accomplished in the division.

Close to 10,000 spectators, a league record this season, packed into Portimão’s city centre on a cold and sunny Sunday afternoon, almost four times the average Second Division gate. They were treated to a game that oozed class and provided more than its fair share of incidents at the goalmouth, especially during the first 45 minutes. Portimonense attacked from the word go and it was only the brilliant form of Bruno Veríssimo in the Olhão goal that prevented the home team from taking the lead. A well-taken throw by Portimonense’s Cavaco in the seventh minute resulted in a point blank Marinho shot, which was saved superbly by the Olhanense ‘keeper. Twice, more cleverly worked moves, saw Portimão players with free shots on goal but both Cavaco and Serjão blasted over the bar.

In the second half, the game lost some of its rhythm with the visitors gaining a semblance of control in midfield. Vasco Matos and the highly-rated Livramento both started to cause the Portimão defence problems, and only timely interceptions by Duka and Barrigana diffused potentially dangerous situations. Olhanense’s best chance fell to new signing, Filipe Azevedo, during this period, who glanced a powerful header just wide. But, the last word belonged to man-of-the-match, Veríssimo. Three minutes into injury time, Ailton took a free kick which looked certain to give Portimonense all three points until the inspired Olhão keeper somehow managed to get his fingertips to the ball. So, the game, which would not have looked out of place in the SuperLiga, finished goal-less but somehow no one minded.

Portimonense

President João Sintra, who spent last week in hospital suffering from a stomach complaint, has announced new sponsorship contracts and co-operation agreements for the 2005/06 season worth an immediate five million euros. The cash injection will allow the club to entertain serious SuperLiga ambitions next year, Sintra said.

In the meantime, the squad has been substantially reinforced for the second half of the current season. Attacking midfielder, Wellington, is the latest addition from rivals Ovarense who are having financial difficulties. The 29-year-old has signed a one-and-a-half-year contract. Other additions are ex-junior, Fábio, Sierra Leone striker, Omar, and the 19-year-old junior international, Ginho.

On the pitch, Portimonense have enjoyed their most successful month of the season so far. The draw against Olhanense apart, Aves were beaten 3-1 away, while Ovarense lost 2-1 in Portimão the following weekend. Last Sunday’s visit to Gondomar resulted in an impressive 3-0 away win, giving Portimonense eighth place in the table, eight points off a promotion place.

Olhanense

The newly-promoted club from the Algarve’s Sotavento region is showing no signs of failing to continue their impressive campaign so far. Already, several players have attracted the attention of SuperLiga clubs and midfielder Vasco Matos has been voted the best player of the first half of the Liga de Honra season. Coach Paulo Sérgio has his hands full keeping his squad together. Top scorer, Ricardo Silva, previously active for Setúbal, Boavista and Santa Clara, is wanted by Estoril, but the striker has been persuaded to stay in the Algarve. The influential midfielder, Livramento, however, has finally left, although his agent has yet to reveal his destination. The club has acted quickly and the experienced Tinai has arrived to replace him until at least the end of the season. The midfield has been further strengthened by Marco Abreu, another disaffected Ovarense regular. One player who will not play for Olhão again is Nélson Afonseca. The striker has been told to go after a dispute over unpaid wages. Much-travelled Nigerian international, Henry Nwosu, who had trials with Olhanense, has also been turned down.

On the sporting front, the club is maintaining its position in the top half of the table. A 3-1 home victory at the beginning of the month was followed by two away draws at Maia and Portimonense. Last Sunday’s home game against league leaders and promotion favourites, Estrela de Amadora, provided a stiff test which Olhão passed with flying colours. Filipe Azevedo scored following an accurate cross from Ricardo Silva in the 22nd minute and the visitors never found their way back into the game. Olhanense are now in sixth, seven points behind Marco who occupy the third promotion spot.

Lower leagues

In the Third Division (II Divisão B), the Algarve’s only representative, Louletano, are maintaining a secure midfield position thus arresting the free-fall experienced in December. A 4-1 home win over Odivelas was followed by an impressive 2-0 away victory against one-time promotion hopefuls, Olivais e Moscavide. A goal-less home draw fell between and, last Sunday, Marítimo B were beaten 3-1.The undoubted highlight of the month was a cup tie trip to Estrela de Amadora, where the Algarve part-timers narrowly lost out to a single goal in extra time. Also entertaining was the 5-4 defeat by Standard Liege, the game forming part of the top Belgian team’s training camp in the region.

In the Fourth Division (III Divisão Série F), Silves are still clear promotion favourites, despite a defeat at Aljustrelense and a draw against Lusitano de Évora. After Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Beira-Mar, Silves are six points clear of their pursuers. Lagoa and especially Almancilense are both doing well in the same league without troubling the principals. Farense are hovering just above the relegation zone, their task having been made even more difficult by a court order preventing the transfer of any new players until all debts are paid. Algarve United have improved in the District League – two wins and a loss – but are still a long way from their promotion target.

International Algarve U17 tournament

The 28th edition of this long-established competition saw the best young players from Portugal, England, France and Norway take each other on from Tavira to Lagos. England started well with a 3-1 win over France but were then beaten 1-0 by Portugal, who showed considerable improvement on their lacklustre opening game win by the same score over the weak Norwegians. Portugal went on to win the tournament with a 3-0 victory against France, whereas England lost their final game 2-1 to Norway.