Phenomenal Braga keep making history

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Back in May, after playing against Paços de Ferreira, Braga claimed a ticket to the qualifying stages of the Champions League and at the end of the match, Hendel’s “Zadok the Priest” adaptation – which is now the renowned official anthem of Europe’s elite competition – was played.

After all, the club had just achieved something remarkable and the chance to play among the top European clubs would be an incredible experience that could catapult the club to another level.

The Minho warriors were handed two tough draws on their road to Champions League football; firstly against Celtic and then against Sevilla.

They manhandled the Scots as if they were playing against a side from Liga Orangina (Portugal’s delightfully named second division)  with a 4-2 aggregate success, but Sevilla would prove a far sterner test and, despite an encouraging 1-0 win at home, the heated environment at Sanchez Pizjuán – quite literally as temperatures of 44º C were reported in the afternoon – could have been a little too much for them to handle.

This Braga side, however, fancied beating the odds and with unshakable faith, they not only they won the tie, but also the match on the night through organized, counter-attacking football.

Domingos Paciencia’s men had to withstand initial pressure as Sevilla tried to make the most of their home advantage, but as time went by the Portuguese side started look more comfortable and got a surprising lead in the 31st minute through Mateus, who reacted quickly to a Palop fumble.

One of the key moments of the match came five minutes before the hour mark. Uruguayan playmaker Luis Aguiar was replaced by forward Lima and the Brazilian would go on to earn a hat trick, the plaudits and the man of the match award.

Just three minutes after his introduction, Lima converted from Mateus cross to duble Braga’s lead. Sevilla then knew they had to score four goals, but were handed an immediate lifeline when Fabiano got his name on the score sheet three minutes later as Felipe botched an easy save.

Sevilla exerted tremendous pressure and the match was played at a frenetic tempo. Navas netted a second for the Spaniards in the 84th minute, at which point Braga fans could be forgiven for fearing a spectacular collapse was on the cards.

But if some die-hard Sevilla fans thought they could still pull it off, Lima was quick to dash their dreams just a minute later after rounding a dazed and confused Palop. There was still time for Lima to complete his hat-trick and Fredi Kanouté to score Sevilla’s third before the referee signalled the end of an incredible match.

The Champions League group stage draw has already determined Braga will face Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk and Partizan. The Gunners are the obvious favourites, but the second place should be up for grabs.

Honestly, neither Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar nor Serbian old boys Partizan are better than Sevilla, and if Braga are able to keep their form – just as they did last season – there is no reason to believe they can’t reach the last 16 of the competition. For now though, it is time to smile and relish the chance to play against the big fish while balancing the books.

Cream of the crop

Every Braga player deserves credit after knocking out the Spanish giants, but there were four players in particular who caught the Portugeezer’s eye, and could go on to cause the likes of Arsenal a few problems in the group stage.

The centre-back was a giant that kept Kanouté and Fabiano in his pocket. Strong in the air and oozing experience and poise, his presence added steel to a backline that needed a leader.

The former Rio Ave rightback replaced Miguel Garcia in the starting XI and had an absolutely cracking match. He was not only able to mark the talented Diego Perotti, but also had the nerve and energy to provide attacking support down the right flank. His attacking prowess and versatility – he played last season mostly as a leftback – make him a great asset for the club and Queiroz may find him a very interesting addition to the national team.

The Brazilian is a great player and it is bizarre to think he was not a regular starter this time last year, having originally signed for the club in 2006. He’s fast, possesses good technique and has a very high work rate. He scored two goals and made one assist over the two matches and will be remembered as one of the mighty warriors to have conquered Sevilla.

Anyone who scores three goals in a match has to be mentioned, but to be able to do so  within 35 minutes in one of the most important matches in a club’s history is a feat that will rarely be matched. The Brazilian forward came off the bench to haunt Sevilla’s defence and has already seen his price tag skyrocket.