NICK LEYDEN - Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Oguchi Onyewu helped Sporting to a shutout victory over Belenenses in the Taša de Portugal, making them the clear favorite as the tournament enters the quarterfinals.
With fellow giants Porto and Benfica already eliminated, the Sporting faithful knew that a victory in the Round of 16 would put them in a good position to win their first trophy of any kind since a 2008 victory in the same tournament.
The game in the Estßdio JosÚ Alvalade did not go according to plan in the opening 45 minutes though, despite the hosts being a heavy favorite against their second division neighbors.
Belenenses, one of only two clubs outside Portugal's big three to ever win a national championship, opted for a defensive approach, often positioning all 11 players behind the ball and well into their own half.
Sporting easily dominated possession through the first half, but were unable to find space and create anything more than half chances.
As a result, Onyewu and partner Anderson Polga saw more of the ball than is customary, as Belenenses was content to allow Sporting's back line to pass back and forth near midfield.
While Sporting's frustration was visibly mounting, Belenenses was growing confident in the counter attack and threatened Rui Patricio's goal on multiple occasions.
In fact, the most dangerous chances of the half fell to Rodrigo Antˇnio in the 25th and 32nd minute, the first on a counter attack that came following a Sporting corner kick which was aimed at Gooch, and the second on a diving header that only narrowly missed the net.
At the break Domingos Paciencia brought on Andre Carillo for Valeri Bojinov, who had been largely ineffective and invisible until the dying minutes of the half.
Whether it was due to the substitution or the halftime speech, Sporting were finally able to impose their will after coming out of the locker room.
In just the 50th minute leading scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel put the hosts ahead by converting a cross from Argentine left back Emiliano Ins˙a.
The Dutchman then created Sporting's second goal for compatriot Stijn Schaars in the 66th minute.
Onyewu, once again, performed well enough to help keep the clean sheet, though the back line was too often susceptible to the counter and could have conceded were it not for Rui Patricio's strong play in net.
With the victory Sporting advance to the quarterfinals where they will square off with MarÝtimo, who will be riding high after knocking out Benfica.
Before the cup competition continues, however, Gooch and the Lions will be back in action in a league game against Nacional on Saturday.