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Benfica coach steps down

LISBON -- Benfica coach Antonio "Toni" Oliveira has resigned after a recent run of poor results at Portugal's most widely supported club.

"During my (2000) election campaign I said Toni was my trainer and it is only due to footballing circumstances, in which things change abruptly, that he has decided to put the institution above personal interests," club chairman Manuel Vilarinho told a news conference.

A visibly upset Oliveira sat next to Vilarinho and said he'd had an uncomfortable time since replacing Jose Mourinho a year ago amid turmoil that followed the election of Vilarinho as the club's new chairman.

When appointed, Oliveira was Benfica's third coach of the 2000-2001 season, after Mourinho and Germany's Jupp Heynkes.

"Indifferent results and the continual exit of trainers are not the way for the club to find stability. Instability is what has been most stable in this club," said Oliveira, 55, who steered Benfica to its last league title in 1994.

"I think Benfica can continue to contend for the (league) title. The situation is far from being disastrous, once key players are back on form or recover from injury," added Oliveira, the sixth manager to be sacked so far in the Portuguese premiership.

His departure displaced Portugal's political crisis and the war in Afghanistan from television and radio news roundups in this soccer-mad nation.

The former Portuguese international's year-long honeymoon with fans ended earlier this month when Benfica missed a chance to go top of the Portuguese premier league, which it has not won since 1994 despite being Portugal's most successful side in history.

Benfica now lies fourth in the premiership, after losing two and drawing one of its last three matches. It also was knocked out of the Portuguese Cup by lowly Maritimo.

Mourinho already has hinted strongly he wants his old job back, saying he could obtain better results from Benfica's current squad without making any major signings.

The Lisbon side was Portugal's biggest spender during the off-season, after a year in which it failed to qualify for European competition for the first time in its history.

Oliveira's deputy Josualdo Ferrira and South African national trainer Carlos Queiroz have been suggested as other contenders for Benfica coach by Portugal's sporting press.