Aves win Portuguese Cup and cap miserable season for Sporting

OEIRAS, Portugal -- The final match of the Portuguese season produced a stunning spectacle at the sun-drenched Jamor national stadium on the outskirts of Lisbon as modest Desportivo das Aves, a club from a town of just 9,000 inhabitants, beat giants Sporting to lift the Portuguese Cup for the first time.

An opportunistic brace by Aves striker Alexandre Guedes, a former youth player at Sporting, set up a deserved victory. Fredy Montero's acrobatic effort in the 85th minute meant Aves had to survive some late pressure, including seven minutes of stoppage time, but the final whistle triggered wild celebrations among Aves' players, coaching staff and fans.

For Sporting, the outcome compounds the current crisis at a club in disarray. The previous Sunday, defeat in their final league match at Maritimo meant Sporting missed out on Champions League football next season. Then on Tuesday, an unprecedented attack on players and staff by 50 masked ultras, who stormed its Alcochete training academy, made headlines all around the world. An unexpected defeat in the Portuguese Cup final represents the culmination of one of the blackest weeks in the club's history.

On Sunday, however, it was Aves who carved out their own niche in the annals of Portuguese football history.

Capturing silverware completed a memorable season for Aves, who have spent only four of their 87 years of existence in Portugal's top flight. Even before Sunday's grand finale, the season had been a notable success for the northerners given that they'd beaten relegation from the Primeira Liga for the first time; the previous three times Aves achieved promotion to the top flight, they had gone straight back down.

Victory was also a personal triumph for former Benfica and Portugal goalkeeper Joaquim Silva (known in the football work simply as "Quim"), who finally lifted the trophy at the age of 42 having twice made it to the final only to end up on the losing side.

A goalkeeper always noted for his athleticism and quick reactions, Quim showed that his remarkable longevity was not down to a question of sentiment. He did superbly well to deny Gelson Martins twice in quick succession in one-in-one duels during the opening 15 minutes. Soon afterwards Aves took the lead, a brilliantly worked counter-attack headed in from a tight angle by Guedes. The goal evidently knocked the stuffing out of Sporting, whose players had barely trained all week.

In contrast, Aves were well-organised, sharp in their passing and launched a series of speedy breaks throughout to prevent Sporting from ever building up a head of steam. Another excellent transition from defence to attack in the 72nd minute saw Vitor Gomes pick out Guedes with an accurate 40-yard vertical pass, the striker skipping past Sebastian Coates before firing across Rui Patrício into the net to double Aves' lead.

"The Sporting commotion was good for us because we could focus all week on coach Jose Mota's tactics without the spotlight on us," said Aves midfielder Nildo Petrolina after the match.

In contrast, it's impossible not to conclude that Sporting's harrowing week had left the players traumatised. Striker Bas Dost, lethal in front of goal all season as attested by 34 goals in 48 matches prior to Sunday, somehow failed to convert a simple chance to reduce the deficit in the 79th minute. He hit his shot against bar in front of a gaping goal, the ball falling to him after Quim had again saved well from Bruno Fernandes.

"It was a very complicated week; it was like a horror film," said Sporting coach Jorge Jesus. "This meant the team were unable to play like they usually do. The Dost miss was an example of this."

Nevertheless, when Fredy Montero struck with an overhead kick with five minutes remaining, memories were stirred of Sporting's dramatic cup final triumph three years ago against Braga, when they overhauled a two-goal deficit with two late goals then prevailed on penalties. Sporting threw everything at Aves, with goalkeeper Patricio joining the attack in the dying seconds, but it was to no avail as Aves held on for a famous victory.

Judging by the words of Aves' radiant club president, Armando Silva, the modest club have every chance of consolidating their position among Portugal's elite for the foreseeable future. "This was a tough season with a completely new squad, but we have now stabilised and around 85 percent of the players have signed contracts to be with us next season."

As for Quim, the evergreen goalkeeper refused to take the mantle of hero.

"I'm not the hero; it's all these players who are heroes after a difficult season, and also the people of Vila das Aves," said Quim. "I promised I'd do everything to make this club stay in the Primeira Liga, but winning the Portuguese Cup wasn't part of the plan."