Brilliant Benfica

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The Independent Online
The jeers of "what a load of rubbish" which poured down from the Highfield Road terraces at the final whistle were more than a shade ironic. But one could not help feeling that, like their players, the Coventry faithful were just getting in practice for what will be a long, hard campaign.

Pre-season friendlies are the most misleading form of football. By the time Coventry commence what cynics claim will be another battle against relegation in six days' time, an extraordinary 7-2 rout at the hands of the most famous club in Portuguese football will long be forgotten.

But the manner in which Benfica, fielding only three of Portugal's Euro 96 squad, inflicted this demoralising defeat on Ron Atkinson's team spoke volumes about the gulf in basic skill between the two football cultures.

Five memorable goals poured past Steve Ogrizovic in the space of 19 first- half minutes, the exquisite Joao Pinto mesmerised a leaden-footed home defence in his 45 minutes, Benfica threw on nine second-half substitutes and squandered a host of chances to extend their lead further.

Portugal were branded one of the summer's great under-achievers, England one of the tournament's success stories. On the, admittedly circumstantial, evidence of this contest the state of domestic football in the former is considerably healthier than it is here.

As consolations go, the home debut of pounds 3m midfield signing Gary McAllister was encouraging. His addition makes Coventry an instantly more attractive, and effective, proposition.

It was difficult to judge who was more amazed: his new team's supporters or his team- mates, as McAllister put on a passing workshop that, in the opening 15 minutes alone, carved out half a dozen chances. Faced with such an early examination, Benfica's Calado gifted their hosts a 13th- minute lead with a poor pass to Dion Dublin while Coventry's second goal, a 20th-minute equaliser, was straight from the Charlie Hughes handbook. Route one: Ogrizovic to Dublin to Noel Whelan. Three touches, the ball striking the ground once and a stylish finish.

But that early promise was soon eclipsed, thanks largely to a magical performance from that tantalising performer, Joao Pinto. He had a hand in everything as Benfica's play began to resemble a one-touch training game. Coventry looked engaged in another familiar exercise - chasing shadows.

Donizete helped himself to two goals, one direct from the boot of the sublime Joao Pinto, Dimas and Valdo each appeared at the end of passing movements that had a stupefying effect on the home defence. Joao Pinto deservedly claimed Benfica's third, embarrassing David Burrows with a side-step and body feint that made him look a far worse defender than he is.

The embarrassment should have continued apace after the interval, but a Valdo penalty and a close-range effort from Nadir Hassan were all Benfica chose to inflict on their hosts.

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