Eight goalscorers dotted the Benfica scoresheet as they terrorized relegation-threatened CD Nacional de Madeira 10-0 in Portuguese Primeira Liga action.
Swiss striker Haris Seferovic and Brazilian international Jonas were the only ones to bag multiple goals with a brace, while six others including Barcelona youth product Alejandro Grimaldo, and 21-year-old defender Ferro all found the back of the net.
Grimaldo scored in the first minute of the match, and Seferovic scored both his before the half-hour mark to put Benfica up 3-0 where it would stay through halftime. After the break, the floodgates opened. Joao Felix, Pizzi, and Reis Ferreira all scored before the hour mark, while Ruben Dias struck just after to make it 7-0.
The hosts would not take their foot off the gas pedal, as Jonas grabbed both his in the final five minutes and Ferreira Silva picked one up to finish things off.
Benfica is the first team to score 10 goals in a Portuguese top-flight match since they did it over 50 years ago in 1965 with an 11-3 win over Seixal, a now-defunct club. They have now won six league matches in a row, and 11 of their last 12. They have not lost under new manager Bruno Lage, having appointed him as first interim and then permanent boss immediately following their last loss on January 2.
The win pulls Benfica within one point of leaders Porto, but the scoreline also gives them a sudden advantage in the goal differential category, going from three behind Porto to seven in front. In the Primeira Liga, goal differential is not the primary tiebreaker – that is head-to-head points – but having already beaten Porto once, they now have some tiebreaker breathing room should they fall in the next meeting in early March.
England’s 3-1 win over Spain was the biggest news of the day in UEFA Nations League play, but there was plenty else to take from the action on Monday.
Edin Dzeko bagged a double as Bosnia & Herzegovina defeated Northern Ireland 2-0. The Roma striker robbed Jamal Lewis of the ball in his own defensive third after the defender slipped, and he buried the chance before the defense could regroup. He picked up his second with 17 minutes remaining as Miralem Pjanic completely bypassed the midfield with a fantastic long chip to Dzeko waiting on the left side of the box, and he had an easy finish with the defense trailing the play.
Dzeko’s two goals were two of just five total shots on target between the two sides in an otherwise drab match, as Northern Ireland has just one win in its last six matches.
Finland topped Greece 2-0 for its fifth consecutive clean-sheet win, going ahead on a goal by Pyry Soiri who finished off a messy chance in the box just after halftime as Greece failed to clear. Finland has not conceded a single goal since falling 2-0 to Romania in mid-June, a run of 479 total minutes. The center-back pairing of Joona Toivio and Paulus Arajuuri has started and played every minute of the three UEFA Nations League wins. Midfielder Glen Kamara scored Finland’s second, ending the country’s run of three straight 1-0 victories.
Switzerland held on to beat Iceland 2-1, with Haris Seferovic and Michael Lang on target for the visitors in Reykjavik. The former headed in a perfect far-post cross from Granit Xhaka just after halftime, while Lang finished off a beautiful bit of team play as Seferovic switched play from right to left before it came back in front of net, touching two Swiss players before finding Lang on the doorstep for finish in traffic. Alfred Finnbogason picked up a consolation with nine minutes left but that would wrap things up.
Hungary drew 3-3 with Estonia in a wild match that featured a double from Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai. The 30-year-old Hungarian bagged a brace on his 50th cap, including his second that rescued a point for his country in the 81st minute after they wasted a 2-1 lead and fell behind 3-2.
Luxembourg topped 10-man San Marino 3-0, grabbing the opener just four minutes in and cruising to the win. Belarus and Moldova drew 0-0 in Minsk as Moldova failed to register a single shot on target despite holding the majority of possession.
World Cup champions Germany let in a last-minute equalizer to the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen, while Northern Ireland handed Greece a shock 2-0 defeat in Athens.
Serbia vs. Albania was abandoned after severe unrest in the stands during the game, while Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal to victory late on in Denmark.
Below is a brief blurb on all nine matches, as European qualifiers are now over until November. But if the past two weeks are anything to go by, next month can’t come soon enough.
Germany 1-1 Republic of Ireland
Toni Kroos gave the World Champions a second half lead but the Irish dug in and battled for every ball. Their never say die attitude pay dividends late on as John O’Shea popped up in stoppage time to hand the Irish a point as Germany continue to struggle. Ireland now sit top of the group on seven points with Poland, while Germany are in fourth with four points. Not good for Joachim Low.
Gibraltar 0-3 Georgia
First half goals from Gelashvili and Okriashvili set Georgia on their way, then Kankava added some gloss to the scoreline for their first win in Group D.
Poland 2-2 Scotland
Honors even in the Polish capital in a gripping match between two much-improved teams. The home side went ahead in Warsaw after Krzysztof Maczynski struck in the 11th minute but the Scots came roaring back as Anya played in Shaun Maloney to make it 1-1 soon after, then Steven Naismith gave Scotland a 2-1 lead. However, the Poles came back and equalized through Arkadiusz Milik.
San Marino 0-4 Switzerland
Haris Seferovic scored twice in the first half as the Swiss rolled to victory away at minnows San Marino. Switzerland lost their opening games to England and Slovenia but bounced back with a big win as Dzemaili and Shaqiri made it 4-0. Job done.
Faroe Islands 0-1 Hungary
Adam Szalai scored the game-winner for the Hungarians who secured their first victory in qualifying away in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Finland 0-2 Romania
Bogdan Stancu quietened the home crowd in Helsinki as Romania jumped ahead of Suomi into second place. Alexander Ring was sent off in the second half, with his red card sandwiched in-between Stancu’s strikes.
Greece 0-2 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland are top of Group F with three wins from three to open things up. Wonderful. Derby County’s Jamie Ward scored the opener, then Kyle Lafferty added another in Athens as Claudio Ranieri continues to struggle. No wins in three for the Greece’s new manager.
Denmark 0-1 Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game-winner in injury time as Portugal secured their first qualifying win. It wasn’t pretty, but you can always count on Cristiano to come up with the goods.
Serbia A-A Albania
UEFA confirmed that the match was “abandoned due to a disturbance on the pitch” as trouble broke out shortly before half time. More news on that here.
It’s back! The Bundesliga began its opening weekend with some thrilling moments to go with plenty of drama. If you’re looking for a unifying thread, the closest we can offer is “goals in bunches.” Momentum swung more than a few times on Saturday.
Friday was opening day, with Bayern Munich needing an absolutely stunning miss from Wolfsburg’s Junior Malanda to settle into a 2-1 win. American ‘starlet’ Julian Green made Pep Guardiola’s 18, but did not feature off the bench.
And there are matches to play on Sunday, with newly-promoted Paderborn hosting Mainz and Stuttgart dueling with Borussia Monchengladbach.
But let’s dig into the meat of the schedule with Saturday’s matches.
Hannover 96 2-1 Schalke 04 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar opened his account early in the second half, but it was more of a wake-up call to the home team than anything else. Edgar Prib and Joselu scored twice in three minutes to give Hannover the points.
Koln 0-0 Hamburg Twenty-nine combined shots, just eight on goal, in a snoozer. Koln picks up a point in its first game since promotion.
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 SC Freiburg Haris Seferovic made a lot of fans at his club with a 15th minute goal that would stand as the winner. American defender Timmy Chandler did not play for the hosts, playing the role of unused substitute.
Hoffenheim 2-0 Augsburg The goals came just two minutes apart, with Adam Szalai’s 33rd minute tally met by Tarik Elyounoussi’s 35th minute marker, and Hoffenheim cruised to all three points.
Hertha Berlin 2-2 Werder Bremen Borussia Dortmund misfit striker Julian Schieber netted twice to give new team Hertha a 2-0 lead, but Assani Lukimya and Franco Di Santo scored twice in three minutes for the visitors to salvage a point. USMNT World Cup hero John Anthony Brooks was an unused substitute for Hertha.
Borussia Dortmund 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen The fastest goal in Bundesliga history, nine seconds from the opening whistle, would’ve been enough for the visitors to walk away with all three points. Karim Bellarabi nutmegged Matthias Ginter and pushed a ball home for the win, and Stefan Kießling added a stoppage time goal to cement the win.
Last season, La Liga closed up shop with its first champion not named Barcelona or Real Madrid since 2004. Manager Diego Simeone led Atletico Madrid to the mountain top, their 90 points enough to outlast the usual names.
But Simeone has lost Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois amongst others in his search to repeat, while both Real and Barca have loaded up in the transfer market (a task especially important to the latter, who won’t be able to make another transfer between the end of this window and January 2016).
La Liga would seem as unbalanced as ever, with 10 teams within 10 points of relegation and no one within 17 points of the ‘Big Three’, but is that an illusion? Who will win the league, who can make a charge and who will go down? Glad you asked…
Relegation battlers: Eibar and Cordoba are both making their first trips through La Liga in a long, long time. In Eibar’s case, it’s the first ever trip to the top flight, while Cordoba last played 42 years ago. Deportivo La Coruna is back after one year in the Segunda Division.
All three will struggle to stay up, but Almeria and Getafe both barely escaped with their safety last season. Can Rayo Vallecano replicated its second half of the 2013/14, and avoid the garbage dump that was the first half? Throw in Elche and Granada, and almost half the teams in the league could go down without qualifying as a major surprise.
The challengers: Athletic Bilbao finished in fourth place, 20 back of the title and 17 back of the third slot, and have not done much to replace the loss of Ander Herrera to Manchester United. Sevilla finished fifth and won the UEFA Europa League, though you get the feeling their place in La Liga would’ve been higher without the focus on winning Europa.
Real Sociedad faces major challenges to replicating its success, as Claudio Bravo, Antoine Griezmann and Haris Seferovic all skipped town, while Valencia made enough intriguing additions to move forward.
If you’re looking for a dark horse, try Malaga. They lost Wily Caballero but ably replaced the Man City-bound keeper with Mexican World Cup star Guillermo Ochoa, while also adding Arthur Boka from Stuttgart, Roberto Rosales from Twente and Luis Alberto on loan from Liverpool. Another dark horse is the aforementioned Rayo Vallecano, which has added Gael Kakuta and Alejandro Pozuelo.
The title tilters: Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti faces the challenge of dealing with an embarrassment of riches after his club picked up James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas to its already jacked lineup (and what if Angel Di Maria doesn’t leave?).
Atletico added Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Raul Jimenez, but may end up struggling to stay with Barcelona and Real thanks to the adjustment period. Barcelona will be very strong once Luis Suarez returns from his four-month ban, but also faces a bit of uncertainty as names like Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen acclimate to the Camp Nou and their teammates learn to live life without Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.
Predicted order of finish (2013/14 finish) 1. Real Madrid (3)
2. Barcelona (2)
3. Sevilla (5)
4. Atletico Madrid (1)
5. Villarreal (6)
6. Valencia (8)
7. Malaga (11)
8. Rayo Vallecano (12)
9. Athletic Bilbao (4)
10. Celta de Vigo (9)
11. Espanyol (14)
12. Levante (10)
13. Real Sociedad (7)
14. Granada (15)
15. Getafe (13)
16. Almeria (17)
17. Cordoba (N/A)
18. Deportivo La Coruna (N/A)
19. Elche (16)
20. Eibar (N/A)