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COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL

Benfica (A) — Taxi t' Lisbon

By Paul Traill :  26/10/2009 :  Comments (3) :

Once we’d gotten round to booking our flight to Lisbon the prices were sky high as most had already beaten us to it and so we had to look for alternatives. Step forward Faro a place only 90 km from Lisbon… or so I thought at the time. Only afterwards did I realize Faro was actually around 270 km from Lisbon… we had quite a trip ahead of us.

The last time we went away in Europe to watch Everton was the trip to Nurnberg back in November 2007. The nightmare we had getting tickets for that one was such that we eventually had to buy from some random on German eBay and sit with the home supporters. Expectant of a similar situation we first attempted to get some tickets through similar means, via a Portuguese variation of eBay before then buying them directly on the Benfica website.

 It was only close to the game when we discovered we actually had eligibility to buy them through Everton in the away end so I was grateful Benfica’s ticket office were much more useful than our one when I informed them I had to cancel the tickets. They refunded them straight away so with a few days still to go before the game we were all sorted. We had flights, a car rented, a hotel booked and tickets sorted. Bring it on!

I was fully expecting to see John Lennon Airport completely booming with half-cut Evertonians when we arrived at around 8am for our 9.30am flight though a glance at the departure board informed us the Lisbon flights had already left. There was still a rabble of quite a few Evertonians boarding our flight to Faro though, so we weren’t alone with this route.

The flight was cruisy and such was our excitement we were there in seemingly no time. Off the plane we were in our car and away reasonably hassle free, even if I did nearly take out some poor sod on a horse and carriage. The drive to Lisbon simply couldn’t have been more straightforward. It’s just one straight road for about 240km with practically nobody else on it. It couldn’t have been simpler and we arrived in Lisbon about 3.30pm with plenty of time still to spare.

If getting to Lisbon was a piece of piss then navigating it was sheer hell. First off we got to the main bridge which connects into Lisbon. You had to pay a €1.35 charge just to get over the bridge but we went through the wrong booth which everybody was swiping their way through quite quickly. With no swipe card of course we then went on to inconvenience just about everybody, not least the booth guy who had to get out and come to another booth, get money off us and then let us through…only for me to stall. Needless to say the commuters queuing behind me weren’t bothered by this in the slightest.

Over the bridge and we didn’t have a clue where to go. We couldn’t find the road listed on our Google map so resultantly had to navigate around Lisbon and back onto the road we’d just come from and so back towards the bridge. Hopelessly we crossed the bridge back the other way whence we realized there were no more junctions, so then it was back round and over the bridge yet again, this time attempting to choose the correct lane only to set off some bloody loud alarm when crossing the unmanned entrance again…this was getting desperate. It was now 4.30pm and we had to find the hotel, park up and then get to the Stadium of Light for 6pm. How we kept our heads as calm as we did I’ll never know – I guess the result of numerous cock-ups over the years.

We still couldn’t find the correct road and so turned off at a place we thought was near the hotel. We even considered jut heading for the ground and sorting this out later until we dived into a petrol garage and accosted a taxi driver asking him in shameful pigeon-English the direction to the hotel. He drew us a little map until I asked him if he could drive us there and we just follow. He was happy to do that and a bloody good job he did too, we’d never have found the place the way he drove, regardless of how pristine the directions. He took us straight there for €5 including tip…certainly the best five quid we’ve ever spent. What a legend.

It was now about 5pm so we checked in, had a quick turn around and ordered a taxi straight from the hotel. Frustratingly the taxi took forever to arrive and by now it was rush hour and the roads were just gridlock. “How long will it take to get there?” Ste asked the taxi driver. He laughed. “It’s impossible to say. Without traffic it would take five minutes but with the traffic it could take any amount of time. Its impossible to say. What time is kick off?”. “6 o’clock” we said. He looked at his watch. “You may miss the first ten minutes”. It was about 5.45pm. Kudos to the driver though. His English was perfect, he was a real gent, even writing down where to go in the evening for eating, drinking and partying and he drove there like his life depended on it, really doing us a favor. Once we got to the ground it was so busy on the roads he suggested we get out and walk. We ran. Fast. Like our lives depended on it.

Once we got to the ground we had to go through some police checks and get our tickets scanned. Once we got through the body search some steward pulled us aside. Convinced we were going to get searched again or something he then ushered us through some side door. We legged it up the stairs passed some struggling drunkards and got up and into our seats. The match had started we’d missed five minutes but no goals. Breathe.

It took us a little while to figure the team out. We knew Yobo hadn’t travelled so we knew we had defensive problems anyway, but weren’t aware Baines and Osman weren’t available either. Resultantly Hibbert partnered Distan at centre-back with Gosling at right back and Seamus Coleman, a right back, making his debut at left back. Talk about a patched up team. Cahill had to play on the right hand side with Fellaini and Rodwell in the middle and Bilyaletdinov on the left hand side. Jo and Yakubu led the attack. This was going to be tough…

Despite all this I felt we were doing really well in the first half. Coleman was getting into it and we didn’t seem too uncertain at the centre of defence. Yakubu was showing some nice touches, Jo too many touches and the midfield were holding firm. I felt we had the measure of them and that so long as we didn’t concede we might be able to nick this. Just as I was thinking this in came a deep cross which some fella got onto the end of, volleyed into the ground and the ball looped up and over Howard and into the corner…spawny get.

This didn’t seem to rock Everton back much in the half though. Jo wriggled into the box and forced the keeper into a good save and Bilyaletdinov smashed two outstanding effort narrowly over the crossbar. The first on the volley with his left foot from 20 yards from a Gosling ball, and the other when he switched onto his apparently weaker right foot and curled just over the bar. Had one of them gone in maybe the game would have been a different story. At half time despite being a goal down I was pretty optimistic, as too were most others I reckon.

At the interval more than anything else we took a bit of time to take in the fantastic stadium and take a few photos. Looking around there were a lot of bladdered people who’d been on it all day but everyone was in good spirits at this stage.

Que the start of the second half and I just don’t know what the hell happened. Another mate Carl spotted me and just as I was talking to him someone jabbed home a cross for Benfica and we were 0-2 down. Some people left straight away. I was astounded. But then less than a minute later we conceded another goal and it was 0-3. How gutting. Even more people left.

Minutes after that from a corner it was 0-4. This was getting ridiculous. Que the signal for hundreds of blues to get out of there. Carl’s mates left leaving him to it with one saying “C’m’ed. Lets go ‘n’ smash up da town”. Nice. Each to their own I guess but I couldn’t quite believe how people could travel so far and then leave so early. “That doesn’t look god on TV” said Carl.

It was completely damaged liability by now as Benfica took their foot off the gas as Everton tried, though failed, to build an attack or two of their own. This just left us totally stretched at times though and but not for someone hitting the crossbar instead of the goal and Howard making a good stop or two Benfica could easily have added more than just the one further goal they did do.

It might have been a little more respectable I guess had Saha scored rather than hit the post with a scissor kick at 0-4. Make that 1-4, and then maybe 2-4 and its not quite so bad, but 0-5, even if there are valid reasons for it, is just pure embarrassing. We’ve got to fight harder than that.

After the game we were kept in the ground for what seemed like forever (certainly longer than the announced 20 minutes anyway). We took the metro to Bairro Alto (as recommended to us earlier by the helpful taxi driver). After a nice meal we made the most of the cosmopolitan atmosphere…at €1.50 a pint who can blame us.

The drive back on Friday was just a straightforward as the drive in on Thursday. Supping a few beers at the airport we noticed, bizarrely, that the guys next to us were the guys sat in front of us at the match. Our return flight was only to Leeds however, and once down the M62 I was gratefully back in bed at 12.30am Friday night / Saturday morning.

The match aside, a wonderful trip.

Player Ratings:

  • Howard: Rather helpless with most of the goals though distribution was rather clueless. 6
  • Coleman: What a place to make your debut. He looked fine in the first half but struggled badly through the second. Wasn’t the most guilty party though and stuck at it more than most. 5
  • Distin: Like most, a decent first half though quite a struggle in the second period. Seemed a bit missing for a few of the goals. 5
  • Hibbert: Stuck at it I guess but struggled…not a centre-back mind. 5
  • Gosling: My man of the match. Not his position but stuck at it manfully, taking responsibility a lot more than some of his teammates. 6
  • Bilyaletdinov: Was looking the most likely to create something until he came off with a knock…all we need. Had two world class efforts on goal. I think he’s going to be something…6
  • Rodwell: Was a complete passenger in the second half. Not sure we can afford to do it with the injuries we have in the squad but he needs to be pulled out I reckon. 5
  • Fellaini: Some silly moments but stuck at it more than most I guess. 6
  • Cahill: He’ll have been gutted as skipper. Didn’t really impose himself on the game as we needed him to and probably didn’t show the best attitude towards the end of the game… was hardly the only one mind. 5
  • Jo: Awful. 4
  • Yakubu: Looked lively first half but tired in the second both mentally and physically. 5
  • Saha (for Yakubu): At least forced an effort towards goal and was unlucky not to score but didn’t really get into the game. Not sure why he didn’t start. Surely you want your best players on the pitch when you play Benfica away. 5
  • Baxter (for Bilyaletdinov): Tried at least but what an impossible game to come into for a young lad. 6

Reader Comments

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Dave Brierley
1   Posted 26/10/2009 at 18:14:43

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Thanks Paul, love your descriptions of the events even if the the end product was so depressing. Keep the faith and keep writing.
Dick Fearon
2   Posted 26/10/2009 at 22:52:40

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Goes to show how two people watching the same game can have totally opposite views. Your MotM was Gosling yet I thought him by far to be the worst of a bad bunch. An Everton player getting ripped apart in manner he was would normally raise my hackles but because of his age I was desperately sorry for him.
Paul Joy
3   Posted 27/10/2009 at 11:28:56

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Paul - your player ratings etc are as far off the mark as your travel arrangements and your inability to find the 10,000 partying blues right in the city centre on the day of the match. Were you at the match by the way?

Dan Gosling was absolutely murdered at right back and benfica targeted him more mercilessly than Chelsea did to Tony Hibbert at Wembley. Gosling tried but just gave their winger way too much space the whole game. He got crap support from Hibbert and Cahill but mate he was simply garbage. He was not alone in that. Everyone has a soft spot for him because of that goal last season but if the only playing experience DM can give him is seeing him slaughtered in Europe then he will not develop at all — his confidence will be shot to pieces.

MotM? Do us a favour!!!!!!

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