Benfica clinch first title since 1994
LISBON, May 22 (Reuters) - Benfica clinched their 31st Portuguese Premier League title, but first in 11 years, when they drew 1-1 at Boavista on Sunday in the final round.
Fans of Benfica, Portugal's most popular club, converged in the centre of Lisbon carrying red flags to celebrate one of the most closely contested championships in the league's 67-year history.
Benfica finished on 65 points, three clear of Porto and four ahead of third-placed Sporting Lisbon.
Porto drew 1-1 at home to Academica in their last match while Sporting went down 4-2 at home to Nacional Madeira.
For the third time in two decades, the Portuguese title was decided in the final round.
The league's so-called 'Big Three' - Benfica, Porto and Sporting - have won the championship every year since 1946, except in 2001 when Boavista took home the trophy.
Benfica, who went into the final round three points in front of Porto and Sporting, opened the scoring against Boavista after 38 minutes when captain Simao Sabrosa converted a penalty after a handball by Boavista defender Cadu.
Boavista equalised three minutes before the break, an unmarked Eder heading home from close range following a corner by midifielder Guga.
Although the second half was scoreless, triumphant Benfica now have a domestic double in their sights as they take on Vitoria Setubal in Portuguese Cup final at the National stadium on May 29.
With two rounds to go in the Portuguese championship, the first four teams were separated by just four points but Braga and Boavista both then fell away in part because of weak cover to replace injuries and suspensions.
Once the final round was complete, reigning champions Porto had to settle for a trophyless season, ending up three points behind Benfica after winning back-to-back league titles.
Sporting, the losing UEFA Cup finalists, finished third after winning 18 times in 34 matches.
Benfica and Porto booked their places in the Champions League while Sporting are in the third qualifying round of the tournament.
Braga and Vitoria Guimaraes had already secured UEFA Cup spots alongside Cup finalists Vitoria Setubal.
Moreirense, Estoril and Beira Mar were relegated, and will be replaced by Pacos Ferreira, Estrela de Amadora and Naval Primeiro de Maio in the 18-team league.