A countdown of the 10 most memorable moments of Portuguese football in 2018: PART 7
7. Aves - and Quim - winning the Portuguese Cup
It was the perfect end to an outstanding footballing career, made all the better by its unexpected nature. Desportivo das Aves, having only been promoted to the Portuguese top flight at the beginning of the season, were expected to have a difficult season, facing a battle to survive relegation and an immediate return to the second division.
But they managed to secure their status among the best 18 teams in the country with relative comfort, finishing 13th in the league, 4 points above Pacos de Ferreira and the drop zone, which was already a marvellous achievement for the club based in a town of just 8,000 people.
In fact, the tiny town of Aves is so small that their equally miniature stadium, which only has a capacity of 8,560, could fit the entire town’s population with some room to spare. Their status in the top flight is, on its own, an outstanding achievement, built on hard work and determination, and shows that extraordinary stories for little villages always have a place in Portugal.
Add to that the fact that their goalkeeper was none other than the 42-year old former Portugal international Quim and the story becomes even more miraculous.
The 32-time international spent his entire career in Portugal, playing for both Braga and Benfica over nearly two decades, and his move to Aves in 2013, at the age of 38, seemed like a short adventure to close off his impressive playing career.
However, fours years on, and Quim was still going strong, playing 37 of the club’s 42 league matches as they earned promotion to the top flight, and deciding to stay on for yet another year to try and help Aves stay in the top flight.
He wasn’t used quite as much last season (in the 2017-18 campaign), although still played 14 of Aves’ 34 league fixtures as he more than played his part in guiding the club to safety, and, more importantly for the sake of this article, played both the semi-final legs and the final of the Portuguese Cup - all while aged 43.
It was a phenomenal story; Aves had gone through round after round in the Taca de Portugal, not having to face any of the top sides in the country but doing what they had to do to stay in the competition. Indeed, perhaps the defining moment for Aves looking back was that incredible 9-8 victory on penalties against Rio Ave, which saw them advance to the semi-finals to take on third division outfit Caldas.
Caldas, it could be argued, deserve to have a place for themselves in this countdown; it was an extraordinary campaign for the minnows in the biggest domestic cup competition; despite sitting very midtable in the third tier of Portuguese football, they defied expectations to reach the final four, toppling the likes of Arouca, Academica and Feirense en route.
Their clash with Aves in the semi-final was surreal, with fans knowing full well that one of these unfancied sides was guaranteed a place in the final of a competition that neither had ever won in their histories, and would face off against one of either Porto or Sporting.
Ultimately, it was Aves, with Quim in goal, that came out on top, having to go all the way to extra time after winning the first leg 1-0 and losing by the same scoreline in the return leg. With the game finely poised and the match into overtime, Aves’ quality eventually shone through, and they held their nerve to eventually win 3-1 on aggregate.
That set up a clash with an out-of-sorts Sporting CP, who had just been affected by some dreadful scenes at their training centre at Alcochete, with the players of the Lisbon club being attacked by their own ‘fans’ in the build-up to the cup final.
The violence came after supporters had witnessed their beloved club give up 2nd place in the league - and with it a place in the following season’s Champions League - to their city rivals Benfica on the very last day of the league season, and some so-called fans turned to thuggery and hooliganism, severely crossing the line and damaging the reputation of the beautiful game in the country.
As such, Aves had as good a chance as they had ever had before to win one of the biggest trophies Portuguese football has to offer, knowing that victory in a one-off match would secure them the most unlikely of titles and engrave their name in the history books for the rest of time.
With 42-year old Quim in goal, Aves battled it out, and came through as 2-1 winners, the hero no doubt Alexandre Guedes, who bagged himself an impressive brace that saw Aves overcome their much more prestigious counterparts.
His efforts ultimately earned him a move to high-flying Guimaraes, but the gift he gave Aves was more than enough for the fans, with the town of Aves celebrating through the night at one of the most extraordinary achievements in the modern history of Portuguese football.
Quim, who retired at the end of the match, spoke about how “winning the cup was never one of our objectives”, showing that it was a pleasant surprise for the veteran, and a fitting way to end his career.
I can think of nothing more appropriate for inclusion on this list than Aves’ remarkable triumph in 2018.