Posted: 2/25/2009


       For a small country Portugal doesn't have a large rail network, but what it has is superb, The main line from second city Porto to the capital Lisbon, is served by the Alfa Pendular on which I 'flew' at up to 225 kph(140 mph) in smooth style.

    I arrived at the futuristic Lisboa Oriente station and crossed the street to the Vasco da Gama shopping city and then to the site of the 1998 Lisbon World Expo site, built on the water. I took a short gondola ride high in the sky before returning to go by Metro to Estadio Jose Alvalade, home of Sporting Clube de Portugal, who found themselves in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time.  I met up with long time friend Francisco Marcos and his 18 year old son Julian, both long time SOCIOS, or club members. There are 90,000 of them, who for about 100 Euros a year have privileges such as discounted tickets. A mile away is Estadio da Luz, the  stadium of SL Benfica, who, with 150,000 'socios' are the world's biggest club.

       The stadium was opened in 2003, a year prior to EURO 2004 with a match versus guests Manchester United. The result was a 3-1 loss for the Red Devils with a scintilating display from a young winger. On the flight back to England, captain Roy Keane told his boss Sir Alex Ferguson that they had to sign the youngster. Cristiano Ronaldo came to Old Trafford and the rest is history. As we entered the stadium we were all given free green and white Sporting flags to wave.

      The  dreaded away goal rule meant that Sporting tried to contain the Bavarians to give them any chance in the second leg at Alliance Arena next week, and for 42 minutes all went to plan.  Bayern's strike force included the mercurial 'man of the match', Frenchman Franck Ribery playing wide left just below me, plus the big Miraslav Klose and the HUGE Italian Luca Toni.

      In the 11th minute Sporting almost took the lead as Anderson Polgas' shot was cleared off the line by Martin Demichelis.  Ribery and Toni charged at the defense which retreated and collapsed and it was 0-1  three minutes before the half time whistle blew.  I took a trip to the toilets which were not only clean, but covered in green and white tiles with the Lion of Sporting design.

      Back in my seat and it was soon 2-0 for the visitors after 57 minutes with a goal by Klose and and assist from Toni, and Ribery scored goal No. 3 from a penalty and then provided the cross for Toni to score No 4, and the tie was virtually over. The Italian added a fifth goal in the 90th minute. The 4,000 or so visiting fans, enjoying the warm evening were bouncing up and down and waving huge flags and were in fine voice. Both teams have important league games at the weekend, Bayern visit Werder Bremen while I am going to watch Sporting as they travel to league leaders FC Porto, who tied 2-2 at Athletico Madrid on Tuesday.