From almost beating AC Milan to relegation for ex-Canaries captain
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
An eventful Portuguese season finished amid relegation pain for former Norwich City captain Ivo Pinto.
In October the right-back was part of the Rio Ave team which came agonisingly close to taking the scalp of Italian giants AC MIlan in the final Europa League qualification stage.
Pinto was released by Norwich in 2019 having made 94 appearances for the Canaries since joining from Dinamo Zagreb for around £2.5million in January 2016.
He returned to Zagreb but six months later returned to his homeland with Famalicao, who were beaten to the final Europa League qualifying spot in the Portuguese top flight by just a point, by Rio Ave.
Subsequently Pinto joined Rio Ave on a season-long loan, where he had a couple of loan stints as a youngster while on the books at Porto.
The 31-year-old former Portugal Under-21 international was a regular starter this season, making 31 appearances in all competitions – but it proved a distressing campaign.
He started all three Europa League qualifiers, with Bosnian minnows FK Borac Banja Luka beaten 2-0 and then a late goal in Istanbul took Besiktas to penalties, who were beaten in the shoot-out, with Pinto already substituted.
The former City defender did take a penalty against Milan on home soil though, after a 2-2 draw when the Serie A side had needed a last-gasp penalty in extra-time.
Pinto converted the 10th penalty to keep the shoot-out alive but Milan earned an 11-10 win on penalties to leave the hosts heartbroken.
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Domestically, a change of manager was made at the end of December after slipping into the bottom half of the table but the return of Miguel Cardoso as head coach at the end of January proved unsuccessful.
A run of 11 games without a win saw the Vila do Conde side nosedive from still being in the top half at the start of April, to slipping to third from bottom and into the relegation play-off.
Pinto missed six games during the second half of the campaign, due to injury and suspension, but started both legs against second-tier side Arouca, playing all of a 3-0 away defeat.
Then on Sunday, the speedy full-back was taken off at half-time and replaced by a forward as Ave crashed to a 2-0 home defeat and relegation, ending 13 successive seasons in the top tier.
Pinto – who was called up to a senior Portugal squad in 2014 but remained on the bench during two games – is set to return to Zagreb, where he still has 12 months on his contract. Dinamo won the Croatian title to earn a place in Champions League qualification.