Wednesday 26 February 2020

League Cup Stories Part Three: The Taça da Liga

Having not so long ago written about the demise of the Coupe de la Ligue in France, with the competition modelled on England's League Cup being scrapped at the end of the season, I thought I'd look at some of Europe's other league cup competitions. I've since written about the now defunct Liga-Pokal in Germany and now I thought I'd turn my attention to another league cup competition, one that is still going strong - Portugal's Taça da Liga.

After their first seven home games this season, Casa Pia had an average attendance of 245. Three figure crowds are not uncommon for the smaller clubs in the second tier of Portugues football but only one team were averaging lower. Newly promoted to what is known as the LigaPro, the club currently sit bottom of the league so it is rather surprising to find that back in August they beat an established top flight Liga NOS side. But Casa Pia's 2-0 victory over Boavista was part of a rare breed, shocks are rather uncommon in Portugal's league cup. Two seasons earlier second tier Oliveirense defeated top flight Vitória Sport Clube 4-1 away from home whilst Real Sport Clube, who that season would finish bottom of the LIgaPro, defeated Belenenses of Liga NOS, but otherwise, shocks are very much few and far between in the Taça da Liga.

Currently known as the Allianz Cup for sponsorship reasons (yes its spelt in English), the Taça da Liga, created in 2007, is very much a competition dominated by the big boys - well one team in particular. There are three teams that have always dominated Portuguese football, but whilst Benfica, Sporting CP, and FC Porto have always tended to share the spoils between them when it comes to Liga NOS and the Taça da Portugal, in the Taça da Liga one of the three has won the competition more times than everyone else combined whilst another of those three has never won it. In its thirteen year history, Benfica have won the competition seven times followed way behind by Sporting CP and SC Braga who have both won it twice but Porto, four times runners up, have never won the Taça da Liga.

Vitória de Setúbal have also won the Taça da Liga as have Moreirense. Top flight side Moreirense, hardly a big name in Portuguese football, defeated Braga 1-0 in the 2017 final and are the smallest club to have won the competition. En route to the final Moreirense defeated Benfica and Porto along the way.

Compromising of all teams excluding reserve sides from the top two divisions in Portugal, the Taça da Liga has had several formats since its inception and currently after two knockout rounds the top four sides from the previous seasons Liga NOS are the last enter the competition for what is a group format. Each remaining side plays three matches in one of four groups each comprised of four teams. The four group winners partake in two one-legged semi-final matches both played at the same neutral venue before the final in January which is also played at a neutral venue. Despite the prestige of winning a major trophy, however, unlike with the Coupe de la Ligue in France and the League Cup in England, the winners of the Taça da Liga do not qualify for Europe.

This season both semi-finals and the final itself were all played at the Estádio Municipal de Braga but with the venues decided well in advance, it meant Braga who defeated Sporting CP 2-1 in the semis and Benfica 1-0 in the final played in a supposed neutral venue that was actually their home ground.

The Taça da Liga was created after a proposed joint idea from Sporting CP and Boavista was approved by Liga Portugal members and unlike the Coupe de la Ligue in France, which is being scrapped at the end of the season, there are no immediate plans to end the competition. In fact, a brand new women's edition known as the Taça da Liga Feminina got underway in January. The Taça da Liga is very much alive and well.

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