Euro football a game of two halves

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Portugal’s representatives in Europe played their second continental group matches last week, and enjoyed quite differing degrees of success.

Champions League

If Braga learnt anything last Tuesday, it was that it may be easy to be great for one night, but it is entirely different to play like Netherlands side of 1974 week in, week out.

Braga hosted Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk and were ultimately humbled 3-0, leaving them further from the second spot and with a dreadful nine goal deficit in the group table.

In a bid to rebuild their reputation following the Emirates Stadium massacre, Braga started the match on the front foot, flying out of the traps and attempting to score as soon as possible. And while it is true they had their fair number of chances, it is also a fact you cannot afford to miss them at this level.

At half-time, with the game poised at 0-0, the fans thought it would be possible to go on to win, as the home side had enjoyed good spells of pressure. However the second half showed the harsh reality: the 2009 UEFA Cup winners are a more seasoned team, more used to playing against the top European sides and, in hindsight, it was a case of men against boys.

In the 57th minute, the Ukrainians would break the deadlock and Braga’s hearts, when one time Manchester United target Douglas Costa combined with striker Luiz Adriano who fired a low shot past Felipe. The goal aggravated Braga’s anxiety and enhanced the Ukrainians’ ruthlessness.

Adriano would score again in the 72nd minute and with a minute remaining Douglas Costas scored from the spot. Braga will now decide their European fate in the two matches against Partizan, their weakest opponent on paper.

Finishing third and hopping over to the Europa League doesn’t look like a bad option at the moment, though a bad result against Partizan can quickly erase their qualifying heroics against Celtic and Sevilla. And what a shame would that be…

Benfica went to the Veltins-Arena on a mission: to win for the first time on German soil, something they were not able to do in their previous 17 trips to Deutschland!

Their opponents – Schalke 04 – were struggling in the Bundesliga and the Eagles were hoping to take advantage of their sluggish start to the season.

Unfortunately, this Benfica side is a mere shadow of last year’s and that is why the 2-0 defeat doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Just like Braga, the Eagles ended the first half with the belief they could win the match; Saviola had missed a glorious chance in the early minutes and Schalke hadn’t exactly looked like the home side.

However, after the break the Germans came on strong and would eventually take the lead through Jefferson Fárfan in the 73rd minute.

By that time, the Eagles looked exhausted and completely clueless and Schalke were able to expose their defence time and time again.

They would eventually find a second goal five minutes from time when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar fired home from close range after good play from Raul.

Considering Schalke are Benfica’s main rival for the second spot, the result is a blow and the Eagles will need to improve if they want to take something from their double date with Lyon.

Europa League

If the Champions League matches could be deemed as utter failures, the Portugal-Bulgaria summit on Thursday was able to rescue some of the country’s pride.

Porto went to Sofia to play against CSKA and they came away with a 1-0 win. The Dragons controlled the match and the score line could have been more empathic if their forwards had got the boots calibrated.

Radamel Falcao scored the only goal after an assist from the in-form Hulk and they are already atop of the group with six points. And with that André Villas-Boas remains invincible…

Sporting entertained Levski Sofia at home and completely destroyed CSKA’s neighbours with a 5-0 hammering.

Probably buoyed by being called-up for the national team, Hélder Postiga was in stunning form as he scored the goal of the night – Sporting’s fourth – when he unleashed a thunderous strike from around 25 yards that stunned the keeper. A great goal that can only keep his morale on a five-year high!

Carriço, Maniche, Diogo Salomão and Matías Fernández scored the other goals in a match that also took some pressure off Paulo Sérgio. The Lions now have six points and look odds-on to go through.