UEFA Champions League: Braga Ready to Join Europe's Elite?

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UEFA Champions League: Braga Ready to Join Europe's Elite?
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

As most people know by now, Portuguese minnows Sporting Clube de Braga made history in Spain on Tuesday night, as they beat La Liga giants Sevilla 4-3 and 5-3 on aggregate to progress to the UEFA Champions League proper for the first ever time in the club's 90 year existence.

A sensational hat trick from second-half substitute Rodrigo Lima followed Matheus' opener to give Braga an unbelievable victory.

After beating experienced European campaigners Celtic in the third qualifying round, Braga's win over Sevilla has pushed the Portuguese Liga top three challengers into the lucrative, illustrious Champions League group stages for the first time, and has showed to the rest of Europe that SC Braga mean business.

For any team that draws Braga in their group, no matter how big they are, they'll know a tough task awaits them, especially at Braga's famous Quarry stadium, a.k.a Estádio AXA.

A defensively disciplined side, the likes of Luis Fabiano, Frederic Kanoute and Jesus Navas were simply unable to find, let alone expose, any costly gaps in Braga's defence, as proven by Braga's 1-0 home win, and first half showing at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium.

And as proven by the scorelines and goals Braga scored against both Celtic and Sevilla, it's clear for the world to see that SC Braga is also a team that's 100 percent lethal on the counter attack.

Braga manager Domingos Paciência has played on the strengths of his players to perfection, blending rock solid defenders brilliantly with quick, strong and skilful attackers with the pace to run down channels and in behind opposition defenders.

That combined with wingers of impeccable fitness like Alan and strong, disciplined yet box-to-box midfielders like Vandinho, has given Paciência a seemingly perfect formula for further success at Portugal's newest contender to the Big Three monopoly of Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

Against teams with slow defenders, no matter their general defensive ability, attackers like Matheus and Lima have the ability to cause offensive havoc for Braga and quite possibly yield goal upon goal for Os Guerreiros do Minho.

And unless opponents have the likes of Lionel Messi or Didier Drogba within their ranks, the chances of scoring against a team built on defensive discipline like Braga are slim to say the least, proven by the fact that Braga only conceded 20 goals from 30 games in the Portuguese Liga last season as they finished second for the first time in their history, three points ahead of Porto and a whopping 23 ahead of Sporting Lisbon.

It's fair to say then, that overall SC Braga really do appear to be a club on the rise. And with a staggering 16 Brazilians in their squad, as well as players reaching the latter stages of their careers, it's clear that almost every player will now be relishing beyond belief the chance to play in the Champions League, as they'll have that burning desire of every professional footballer to showcase their talents on the biggest stage and prove to the world they can take on and become part of Europe's elite.

Therefore, with a mean defense, lethal counter-attack, skillful Brazilians, recently proven pedigree at the top, burning desire for success, and unbelievably high confidence levels following sensational victories, Sporting Clube de Braga now have all the ingredients required to build on 2009/10's remarkable success and make 2010/11 the most successful season in the club's history.

Just as the players will work harder than ever to prove their worth, so will relatively unknown manager Domingos Paciência, as the whole Braga team aim not only to be in the highest echelons of Portuguese football, but become part of Europe's elite.

Can Sporting Clube de Braga join Europe's elite? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, it's safe to say there's no limit to what these Braga boys can achieve.

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