Braga continue to do the impossible

Amigos, it is getting harder by the day to find superlatives that can do justice to Braga’s performances.

Two weeks ago the Arsenalistas finished their Scottish job with a 4-2 aggregate success over Celtic, but not many were ready to tip them to secure an unlikely passage to the Champions League as the play-off draw somewhat ruthlessly dictated they would meet Spanish giants Sevilla.

A question of scale

It is important to understand how wide the gap between the two sides is. One of the most consistent La Liga teams with world class players such as Luis Fabiano and Jesús Navas, Sevilla are used to playing against top clubs throughout the season and, while they aren‘t known as massive spenders, players like Didier Zokora and Alvaro Negredo both cost upwards of €10 million.

On the other hand, Márcio Mossoró – Braga’s most expensive player ever – was acquired for €700K. Hardly the same scale, you’ll probably agree.Still, anyone who last night’s match would barely have noticed the difference  in stature between the two teams. Braga clinched a 1-0 win and they have every reason to believe it is possible to overcome the Spaniards next Tuesday evening.

Some have already sought to make excuses on Sevilla’s behalf, claiming the La Liga side were not as match fit as Braga, having not yet started their domestic league campaign; the truth is simply that Braga outplayed Sevilla and earned a result that has substantially boosted what were initially very slim chances of Portuguese progression

Slow start

The first half of the match was a rather even contest with just two real goalscoring opportunities. Braga, perhaps a bit nervous, found it difficult to retain possession and almost conceded early in the match as Fabiano hit the post.

Matheus was rarely given any room to operate and could usually be found between Sevilla’s centre-backs Fazio and Escudé. On the one occasion he managed to evade his opposition, he went through one-on-one with Andrés Palop but was unable to beat the veteran custodian.

After the break though, things changed. Whether it was down to Domingos’s words of wisdom or Sevilla’s players’ wary legs, Braga upped the tempo and their free-flowing attacking football quickly caused some problems for the Spaniards.

Around the hour mark, full-back Silvio – who replaced Miguel Garcia in the second half – sent a pinpoint cross to Paulo Cesar who headed for a superb save from Palop. The talented Matheus, however, was quick to pounce on the rebound and give Braga the lead.

Antonio Álvarez’s men had trouble getting back in the game and Braga were able to pin the Andalusian side back inside their own half for large parts of the remainder of the game. There was still time for substitute Lima to rattle the crossbar with a spectacular drive in the last minute that would have given them an even better result, but the home supporters didn’t care. For them, this was yet another memorable night and their European dream continues well alive.

90 minutes from history

It is impossible to single out a player whose individual performance carried the team. From goalkeeper Felipe, who was almost exhaling serenity; to rock-solid centre-backs Moisés and Alberto Rodriguez, to midfield industrious duo Alan and Leandro Salino who were quick to initiate attacks, and of course talismanic forward Matheus, it is the whole team that should be praised.

Nevertheless, it’ll certainly be a different match at Sánchez Pizjuán. Manager Domingos Paciência must find a way to put a leash on the impressive Navas who caused a lot of problems to Elderson.

Sevilla know they need to win this time and probably score at least two goals, giving them no other option than to attack. They sure have the firepower to hit Braga, but if Braga’s backline performs as well as in yesterday’s match, a potential counterattack game plan may stun the Spaniards.

Regardless of what happens next Tuesday though, Braga should be considered a source of pride for Portugal and an example on how positive football coupled with good management can take a club quite far.

Kudos to them!

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