By Manuel Traquete (from Estadio José Alvalade)
An Anderson Polga goal in the 28th minute was enough for Sporting to beat Lille, record their 100th victory in UEFA competition and ensure smooth sailing to the knockout phase of the Europa League.
Despite that, this is not a night to remember for Sporting and their fans. Given the team’s disappointing performance in the Portuguese League so far, it was no surprise that only 20.000 supporters were at Alvalade (less than half the capacity. Today’s performance surely will not encourage more supporters to come in the future.
Previously, Sporting had shown a different “face” in Europe, with good performances at home against Levski Sofia (5-0) and Gent (5-1), but not today. The second-half was especially terrible and Sporting were very lucky to come out with the three points. Rui Patricio, Sporting’s goalkeeper, was the hero with some great interventions.
Other than the goal, Sporting only had two more chances, both in the first half, but Anderson Polga (the Man of the Match) and Yannick Djaló missed them. In the press conference, Sporting manager Paulo Sérgio claimed that, at this point, winning is all that matters and that the not-so-good performance was due to the opponent’s quality. But the crowd thought otherwise, hence why they booed the players after the final whistle.
Last season, Sporting lost in the last 16 of this competition on away goals to eventual champions Atlético Madrid. This season, Sporting have already secured a spot in the knockout phase and will try to save the season with a deep run in Europe. In the league, they’re already 13 points behind Porto and, judging by today’s performance, it’s easy to understand why. Some drastic changes must be made in the club and fast.
As for Lille, the fact that one of the top teams in France could perform so poorly tells a lot about the downfall of the Ligue 1. In fact, Lille will have to battle it out with Gent in the final matchday in order to secure their berth.
As a final note, Eden Hazard is by no means “The New Ronaldo”, as some sections of the media hyped him up to be.