Portugal's first division is often overlooked, but if you take a look around Europe you'll find that many of the players on the top teams across Europe got their start in Portugal. It's the league I follow most closely. If you're interested in following it you can head over to espn3.com and stream some games. They stream 1 game per weekend and it's free. If you live somewhere like New Bedford, Fall River, Cambridge, or Lowell you can head over to the local Portuguese club or Portuguese owned bar and watch all the games there as they are broadcast here in the States via RTPi and Sport TV.
One of the biggest problems in Portugal has been that clubs are in bad shape financially. This is due to a number of factors but can be attributed to two main reasons; corrupt club administrations and clubs not living within their means. Unfortunately many club presidents see the presidency of a club as a way to steal a lot of money while at the same time not living within the club's means. These two things together have been catastrophic for clubs like Setubal, Guimaraes, Estrela Amadora, and countless others. Even the big 3 clubs face tough financial times.
I could go on and on about the problems the league and clubs face. But I don't really feel like typing 200 pages right now so I'll move on to this year's season.
Champion: I'm going to go with FC Porto. You can probably guess who I support. But really, I do believe that they will win it. They have a good young coach in Andre Vilas Boas. He was an assistant to Jose Mourinho for several years. He's going to bring out the best in players such as Belluschi who didn't always see eye to eye with Jesualdo Ferreira. They've made good additions such as the signing of Joao Moutinho. They have a good starting 11 and have a deep roster. They have some younger players who could make an impact such as Castro and Ukra. Varela is a player who I'm expecting will have a big year. I also expect a deep run in the Uefa Cup. They've got a team that can win it. Hey, they did it Mourinho's first full year as coach.
Second Place: Sporting. They have looked good during their pre season. The addition of Maniche is a big one. He's on the decline but I think paired up with Pedro Mendes they're going to form a very good partnership in the midfield. Matias Fernandez is another player who can make things happen coming out of the midfield. He had a tough year last year adjusting to the league. Now that he's more familiar he'll be a more consistent performer. Another player who has looked very good so far has been Sinama Pongolle. The team's biggest question mark is defense and in goal. I still don't think they have a reliable left back and Rui Patricio is very shaky in goal. That being said I still expect them to have a good year and go far in the Uefa Cup although they have a tough draw against Brondby in the next round.
Third Place: Braga. Domingos had a great first year as coach leading the team to a second place finish and a chance for Champions League qualification. They were able to bring back Luis Aguiar who will be their playmaker in the midfield. Andres Madrid has also looked good so far. A talented player who has seemed lost the past two seasons. I think this one's going to be different. The loss of Hugo Viana is a big one as he was the team's big playmaker last year but I think Domingos will have this team ready to play. Braga has Sevilla in Champions League qualification. It's a tough draw but I think it's winnable. Making the Champions League would be a huge financial boast for this club. The fans and city of Braga deserve it.
Fourth Place: Benfica. Last season was a fluke. Plain and simple. I am still not convinced that Jorge Jesus is a good coach. Also, Benfica's best friend Ricardo Costa is no longer a part of the league's disciplinary commission due in part to the Hulk fiasco that occurred last year among other things. So what that means now is when David Luiz and Luisao committ fouls deserving of cards they might actually get carded as opposed to last year when they'd laugh and tell the ref. that it was a fair challenege and the ref. would laugh and say "ok, I believe you". Rui Costa better watch out, now that Ricardo's gone he can't go walking into the tunnel with a bunch of thugs and start fights with the opposing team. Remember when I was talking about problems with the Portuguese League. Well, here's the biggest problem, Benfica. To be honest, I'd take it one step further and say their Portugal's biggest problem. But hey, that'd require a pretty big history lesson. So lets just leave it at that.
The other team in Europe is Maritimo. They've got a good coach in Mitchell Van Der Gaag. Their roster is decent. Djalma up front is good. One thing that I'd like to see them do is reduce the number of foreigners on the roster and give the youngsters of Madeira a chance to prove themselves. The island produces a lot of good players. They should be given a chance to show their talent on their home soil.
So, who could surprise some people this year. Well, it's always tough to determine in Portugal. Before the season begins you'll find a couple of clubs with good rosters and then those clubs barely avoid relegation. Usually, this is due to some very bad coaching. Lets take a look.
Academica could be a surprise. Jorge Costa is now their coach. He coached Olhanense last year and barely stayed in the top flight. However, Olhanense played some very good soccer last year. I'd say the poor results were a result of having a very young team. At Academica he's got some good players who have experience. They'll be battling for a Uefa Cup spot.
Now this is just random. Naval has 6 French players on their roster and a player from Guadeloupe. Very random as it's not very common to find French players in the Portuguese League. They had quite a few French players last year as well, so I guess since they had a bunch they figured they'd hire a French coach too. It's probably a good move. I just hope they play some attractive soccer.
So after reading this you know who I support and who I clearly do not support. A site worth checking out is www.zerozero.pt This site is great for all leagues, not just the Portuguese league. They have rosters and line ups for all of the major leagues as well as historical results for all major leagues and competitions. It's very easy to follow if you don't know any Portuguese.