UEFA Champions League: Fabulous Braga Send Sevilla Packing
After the draw of the Champions League playoff came out, most people predicted that Sevilla would have no problem getting rid of Braga (a relatively unknown Portuguese team) and advancing to the group stage of the Champions League.
Even after Braga beat Sevilla 1-0 at home, many thought that Sevilla would easily turn things around at home.
Well, the truth is that Braga showed that beating Celtic was no fluke and they sent Sevilla packing in spectacular fashion.
Braga outplayed and, more importantly, outsmarted Sevilla, for the whole 180 minutes of the tie. In the end, the fact that Sevilla's budget is eight times bigger than Braga's and the fact that Sevilla have stars like Luis Fabiano, Kanouté, or Jesus Navas proved to be meaningless.
Braga, a team without any stars, relied on intelligence and teamwork to defy the odds. Teamwork is, in fact, Braga's main quality. The team is incredibly cohesive and doesn't give the opposition much space to play their football. In the first leg, Sevilla had only one big opportunity and, today, they virtually didn't have an opportunity until they scored their first goal.
Perfect on defense and deadly on the counterattack, Braga silenced the Sanchez Pijuan at the 31st minute when Matheus (who had already scored in the first leg) put Braga in front.
In need of scoring at least three goals, Sevilla pushed forward, but all their efforts were denied by Braga's perfectly organized defense. Braga kept troubling Sevilla's defense with ferocious counterattacks and, in the 58th minute, Lima , who had just come into the match, scored and put Braga ahead 3-0 on aggregate.
It seemed like it was over, but two minutes later Sevilla, in their first real chance, got one back thanks to a mistake from Braga's goalkeeper Felipe. After Sevilla scored, Braga showed their first (and only) signs of weaknesses. The team seemed to be feeling the pressure of being so close to fulfill their dream of participating in the Champions League, and Sevilla began creating many chances.
In the 84th minute, Jesus Navas scored. With six minutes left (plus added time) and Braga's team a little disoriented, it seemed like things could get difficult. However, immediately after Navas's goal, Braga took advantage of a lack of concentration from Sevilla defence and Lima scored again.
It was all over. Lima completed a dream night by scoring a hat trick. Kanouté scored in the final minute. Final score: 4-3 (5-3 on aggregate).
As a Portuguese football fan and someone who has been following this team and their great coach Domingos Paciência's work, I predicted that Sevilla would have a very tough time against Braga.
But even I couldn't predict such an amazing performance by Braga. They beat Sevilla, one of the best teams in Spain, and won in a stadium where many giants of European football have fallen over the years. And they did so by playing excellent football.
Braga were the better team and fully deserved to qualify. Sevilla paid for the arrogance they showed before and even during the tie and now they have to settle for playing in the Europa League.
After this performance, I'm sure no team will take Braga lightly any more. My prediction is that, even though Braga are not favorites, they will cause a lot of problems to the European giants they will face in the group stage.
Today's match showed that no team can underestimate Braga or they will be in for a surprise. Even though players like Moisés, Rodriguez, Alan, Lima, and Matheus (among others) are quite decent, it's Braga's ability to work as a team that makes them a team to watch out for.
A lot of the credit has to given to their coach, Domingos Paciência, who led Braga to the second place in the Portuguese League, breaking the status quo (usually, it's the Big Three of Portugese football—Sporting, Porto, and Benfica—challenging for the title and then the rest of the teams fight for fourth place), and whose work has been nothing short of brilliant.
Many people in Portugal even believe that Braga should have won the league, since Benfica was heavily favored by referees.
All I can say is: Congratulations to Domingos Paciência and his Braga team and good luck in the Champions League. You deserve it!
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