Norman Riley in Lisbon. 

Eusebio Cup, Estadio da Luz, 26/Jul/22, KO: 20:00 

Benfica 3 Newcastle United 2

Newcastle United lost out on the Eusebio Cup to a last minute winner from the hosts Benfica at the magnificent Estadio Da Luz. Edward John Frank’s Mags were unlucky not to get the chance to go to penalties which I would argue was the least they deserved after putting in a very good shift against the Portuguese giants. What we might now be able to call the hallmarks of this Newcastle United side, defensively organised, lethal when breaking forward and not afraid to put feet and head in where it hurts were all in evidence in a game that was, surprisingly for me, a bit spicy.

But, before discussing match performances and incidents, it is only right to talk about the whole day prior to the game. What a day it was. First and foremost, Lisbon is a spectacularly beautiful city. I spent the morning and early afternoon exploring its ornate streets and stopping off for a couple of those 20ml beers which on the continent it is perfectly acceptable to do at 10am. I ate pastel de nata for breakfast (those little custard cakes that simultaneously give you a massive sugar rush and challenge your teeth to remain intact)alongside those little beers (called imperials). I spotted quite a number of black and white tops as the morning wore on and I am almost certain most of those around 10am had been to bed and weren’t still going from the night before…

Mid-afternoon was the proper warm-up for the match ahead as I popped out and met fellow Mags (hello to the Waaalwoorks) for a few canecas (pints) of cold Super Bock. I made the sensible decision to sit for three straight hours in the direct sunlight, basking in 35 degrees of heat. You know when people say the best way to adapt to a new country is to do what the locals do? Well, I didn’t follow their lead by sitting in the shade and as I type this I can feel the top of my head, ears and nose disintegrating. Clever little Englishman sitting in the sun.

Around 1700 I headed up on the metro to the ground and I was honoured to meet up with the Benfica fans who run the @BenficaFM podcast for a few more imperials pre-match. Outside of the Metro station Altos Dos Moinhos is an area where fans congregate to drink, eat, chat and sing. The Benfica fans were loud, passionate and very welcoming. I got a history of Benfica, the lowdown on Portuguese football and even chatted to a Benfica fan who started supporting Newcastle in the early 90s. Football fan solidarity at its finest.

Getting into the stadium was a pretty tame affair despite pre-match fears of ID checks, full body searches and police escorts. I swear sometimes this kind of patter is put out by authorities just to try and discipline us fans because, yikna, football fans are hooligans…I’d heard pre-game that the game was a sell-out. That might have been the case but there were a number of empty seats in both home and away ends. Not that it wasn’t still a pretty hefty and noisy crowd, mind.

And so onto the game itself. Howe chose a strong starting line-up and the Newcastle players looked like what we’ve come to expect – fit, lean, organised and determined. The first half especially was played at a tempo that had the feel of a competitive game with both sides looking dangerous going forward. Newcastle did well to come back twice from a goal down with two superb Miggy goals from Kieran Trippier assists. The former really is not only returning to the kind of form we saw under Rafa but I think there’s a case to say he’s surpassing those levels. The Paraguayan was a player I thought would be moved on this pre-season but Howe et al, as with many others, seems to have revitalised him. We’ll need goals from our wide players next season and Miggy’s pre-season form suggests he’s more than capable of contributing.

In terms of other players, Nick Pope got a bit of (undeserved) stick from a very tiny minority of fans, but I thought he did ok. His distribution looks solid and he has a good reading of the game which allows him to stop possible chances becoming actual chances. Botman played well and will only get better. Elliott Anderson caught the eye and there’s absolutely no way he’s going to WBA on loan…The second half wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first as both sides made significant changes. However, the competitiveness did not drop as evidenced perfectly by Joelinton getting two bookings. The second card could have been a straight red and I hope that the Brazilian enforcer learns to curb his enthusiasm for chinning the opposition otherwise I feel he could be on the receiving end of a couple of suspensions next season.

Just as the match looked like it might go to penalties the home side got a last minute winner. A shame to lose but equally many positives to take from the performance. The players look ready to hit the ground running and I’m assuming Howe now has a very clear picture of the eleven that will start against Forest. That game cannot come quick enough. Howay the lads.

PS, after th efinal whistle went we got to see the Benfica lads lift the cup because the police I am led to believe were a little heavy handed and didn’t let us out until around 30 minutes after the final whistle. I returned to my accommodation and went to bed…too much sun during the day…a few Mags I know carried on until the early hours and I’ve no doubt some are still going as I type this match report at 0800. I salute you if you were one of them.

Norman Riley – @NormanGRiley who was at the Estadio da Luz, Lisbon for TRUE FAITH.