Rest In Peace, Captain

Today Portugal and Benfica bid farewell to one of their greatest captains, Mario Coluna.

Both on and off the field he was an exemplary leader, bursting with energy that a modern day Yaya displays, a passionate competitor, champion and gentleman. Born in Mozambique like his legendary teammate and friend Eusebio, who referred to Mario as his ‘older brother’ and called him ‘sir’, Coluna too is considered a national treasure.

The ‘Sacred Monster’ was a loyal Benfiquista competing in a total of 677 matches, scoring 150 goals and lifting 19 titles, which includes 2 European Cups, as well as losing 3 other finals. He’ll always be remembered as the club’s greatest captain as well as Portugal’s, where he wore the armband in the 1966 World Cup.

Descanse em Paz.

Zero to Hero: The rise of Nemanja Matic

By Dominic Vieira

Finding the complete centre midfielder, the sort of player demanded by most manages these days, is a blistering headache; just ask David Moyes how successful his search has gone. As several clubs looked to improve their quality in the centre of the park, in particular those sitting at the top of the Premier League, Nemanja Matic was a highly wanted man this winter.

Like with most of Benfica’s signings - Matic, who joined from Chelsea as part of the David Luiz deal and was originally valued at £4m - arrived to the Portuguese capital as an outsider, a player no one had really heard of and someone who the club did not expect to sell for millions. This too was shown by the player being rejected by the club’s ‘Stars Funds,’ a fund through which investors can buy a percentage of a Benfica player’s rights.

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Remembering Eusebio - AFR Voice Ep.22

In a week that has seen football lose one of its all-time greats, we’ll be taking a look at the dazzling career and life of the one and only Eusebio, including some of the tributes that have been paid to the man who scored more than a goal a game for his club side Benfica, and lit up the 1966 World Cup by becoming the tournament’s top scorer.

We’ll also be taking a look at the steps being taken by Real Madrid to banish far-right ultras from the Bernabeu, and get stuck right into AFR’s exceptionally well put together “Best Of Football Writing 2013”. As you can probably guess from the title, it’s a compilation of some of last year’s finest pieces of writing about the beautiful game from across the web, and you can check it out right here.

We’ve also got our first feature interview of 2014, which sees us talking to Serie A expert and author of “20 Great Italian Games” Giancarlo Rinaldi about the weekend’s top of the table clash between Juventus and Roma, Fiorentina’s bid for a Champions League spot, and of course, just what does the rest of the season hold for Queen of the South in the Scottish Championship?

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The legend I never saw - A Tribute to Eusebio, ‘O Rei’

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Lisbon

The amount of times I’ve walked to the Estadio da Luz from my grandmother’s apartment to watch a Benfica match is countless. The trip with my father and brother is always the same: a repetitive route with Benfica scarves wrapped around our neck all, where all we’d talk about was our club. At that time the heroes were Nuno Gomes, Karel Poborksy and Joao Pinto. It had been years since we’d won the league, and European glory was only sensed in black and white photos published in dusty books. I had no idea how great Benfica was. None at all.

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End of Season Special - AFR Voice, Ep. 20

It’s over. It’s over for another season. But as the transfer window gets wrenched open, the managerial merry-go-round starts to gain momentum, and the last of the champagne-drenched Bayern Munich and Crystal Palace players get scraped up from the Wembley turf, AFR Voice is back one last time to get under the skin of the weekend’s action.

We start off with none other than club football’s showpiece event – the UEFA Champions League Final. Tune in for extensive audio from the pod’s roving reporters, Paddy and Alex, soaking up the pre-game atmosphere in Piccadilly Circus, before delving into the future of football courtesy of the Adidas Lab where we got chatting to some of AFR’s finest about technology and just where the game is going. We’ve also got a chat with journalist and Bundesliga expert Archie Rhind-Tutt to give us his take on the final and what the future holds for both Dortmund and Bayern.

Then it’s off to possibly the most lucrative game in world football where Crystal Palace were triumphant over Watford in the Championship play-off final, earning themselves enough money to buy a small country in the process. But just for how long will the party last? And what are they going to do with all that cash?

To finish off, we’ve got a roundup of what else has been going on outside of North London– Monaco making big (bank) statements in the transfer market, more heartbreak for Benfica, the US Open Cup third round, and a fight for the final Champions League spot in a La Liga campaign that doesn’t show any sign of finishing until about mid-August.

And with that, we are done. Many thanks to everyone for listening, tweeting and emailing throughout the season – we massively appreciate your involvement, and we’ll catch you soon!

Benfica hopes to fly away from the Gutmann curse

By Dominic Vieira

There’s a curse in Lisbon known as the ‘Guttman Curse’, named after the Hungarian manager who led Benfica to back-to-back European titles in the early 60s. That was 51 years ago in Amsterdam, where the legendary quadruple consisting of Aguas, Coluna, Eusebio and Simoes, sunk Real Madrid 5-3, to place Benfica as one of the leaders of world football. And following Bela Guttman’s second trophy, he left the club.

Benfica went on to become one of the clubs that has lost the most European finals, 5 to be precise. But their last presence in a final was the 1990 European Cup Final, losing 1-0 to Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan - which was arguably viewed as the best team in the world at that time. Despite qualifying for their eighth European final, it was evident that Benfica were not at the level or quality that won them greatness in the 60s.

23 years later and the club is back on a stage that they used to visit much more often. Much has changed since their last visit; a new stadium, Porto rising and dominating the domestic football, overcoming their financial troubles and having a much larger South American presence amongst their squad.

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Amsterdam awaits x AFR Giveaway

The location. The two giant clubs clashing. The Europa League final promises to be a night to remember. Benfica have to pick themselves up after possibly conceding the Liga Sagres title in the 92nd minute in their 2-1 loss to Porto. Chelsea will have one eye on a new Champions League charge next season. It’s not the Champions League, but these two sides have produced some of the most entertaining football the world has seen this season.

And we have another reason to tune-in. As part of their post-season tour, Chelsea are traveling to another city with Dutch roots, playing against Man City at Yankee Stadium after the Champions League on Saturday, May 25th. Before the friendly, Yankee Stadium will host a viewing party, showing the Champions League on their 59 foot high screen. We’ve been given a few tickets for the match. So, we’re going to give them away. If you’re not in NYC, you probably know someone who is. Be a good friend.

Right, contest details. Plenty of eyes are on David Luiz for tonight’s final, so tell us if you think he will a) Score b) Earn a yellow card c) Both d) Neither/Other (we reward creativity). Tweet @afootballreport or comment on this article to enter. And enjoy the match. Boa sorte, Benfiquistas and Blues! [More information on the friendly here. GIF by Dale con Comba.. Art by Luke Barclay. Send questions to Eric]

Lisbon in flames / A Chama Imensa

This is a new one for us. A few nights ago, a leader of Benfica’s ultras dropped us an email. The Benfica Ultras are these guys, as a reminder. Benfica’s road to Amsterdam, the home of this year’s Europa League Final, continues in Turkey tonight against Fenerbahce, home to some of the most passionate and devoted fans in the world.

Here’s part of what was sent our way:Dear AFR, as you probably know, this can be a dream season for all Benfica fans. Benfica is much more than a club, it’s a religion and being an “Benfiquista” it’s a feeling that can’t be explained.

Being a “Benfiquista” is to have a huge flame in your soul. Benfica is that and much more and that is why it is said “Benfiquistas” have inside them the “Huge Flame” - Chama Imensa (in Portuguese). That brings me to the reason why i’m writing you this message. That is the name an unofficial motivation video fully designed, filmed and edited by members and supporters of Sport Lisboa e Benfica. 

It was filmed anonymously throughout Lisbon.”

Benfica are in flying form this year; unbeaten on a domestic level, with their 12th man always being behind Jorge Jesus’ side. Tonight they will be outnumbered and outsung, but despite the minority, we’ll see if Benfica’s flame will stay lit in one of Europe’s most intimidating environments. Eles acreditam. [Posted by Eric and Dom]

Is the third time the charm for Benfica in Catalunya?

When there’s one match remaining on the Champions League group calendar and it’s a must-win fixture, traveling to Barcelona is always a colossal challenge for any team and certainly not the ideal scenario. Tonight we see Benfica take on this imperious side at the Camp Nou for the third time in their history, where they’ve lost on both previous visits.

They first met in the final year of the now-defunct European Cup, the 1991/92 season, where Benfica faced an incredible Barcelona side, known as the ‘Dream Team’. The hosts won the encounter 2-1 and Johan Cruyff led the club to Wembley where they conquered their first European title. 

14 years later and Benfica walked out onto the Camp Nou to battle the second-leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Following a hard fought 0-0 draw in Lisbon, this was an open game, although the odds were always against 'O Glorioso'. To no surprise, Benfica were outclassed by another outstanding Barcelona side with Ronaldinho dazzling at his golden best. And once again, they marched forwards and lifted their second European title in Paris.

Unlike the two previous meetings, Barcelona does not need a victory tonight, but that doens’t mean it’ll be an easy match, even if key players are rested. Barcelona are flying, Tito Vilanova has enjoyed a milestone-breaking campaign in La Liga so far, accumulating 40 points from 14 fixtures. If the club’s magical football or clinical form doesn’t crush Benfica - then Leo probably will. While he’s not starting, Messi is expected to play tonight, and he’ll be terrorising his opponents as per usual, alongside an aim to surpass Gerd Muller’s historic record of 85 goals in a calendar year. 

With Celtic playing at home against Spartak, a victory is expected from them, meaning Benfica must to win to qualify. Anything is possible - this is the Champions League and tonight Benfica must play like ‘um gigante’ - replicating a performance they produced against Manchester United this time 7 years ago. CARREGA BENFICA!

[Posted by Dominic, probably Benfica’s most passionate fan]

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