PARIS, France, May 5 – Sporting Braga have no European pedigree as such but on Thursday the minnows from Portugal are hoping to set that right by reaching the Europa League final in defeating Portuguese giants and two-time European Cup winners Benfica as they bid to overturn a 2-1 deficit in the second leg.
Should they succeed in doing so they will ruin the script for the final in terms of what the neutral observer would like to see in Dublin on May 18 – a clash between last season’s Portuguese champions Benfica and their bitter rivals and the team who ran away with the title this season Porto.
Porto look all but assured of booking their tickets for Dublin as they go to Villarreal in Spain with a 5-1 lead from the first leg, and having not lost a match in a major competition this season it would be a huge surprise were Villarreal to deny them.
Braga have good reason to be confident of gatecrashing the final especially if they play at the same level they did during the Champions League group stage when they beat Arsenal 2-0 at home last November.
Braga have had another decent league campaign and lie third, though 14 points behind second-placed Benfica, but their battling midfielder Leandro Salino believes that league position will not count in what is to them the equivalent of a final.
Salino is confident that a combination of the away goal and their formidable home record in European competition this season – they have conceded just three goals, all in a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk, and won six of their eight games.
"We may have lost the first leg but our goal is a real bonus and takes some of the disappointment out of the result," he said.
"We have an excellent opportunity to reach the final and we are confident that if we maintain our previous form at home we can do just that."
Benfica, though, are determined to salvage something from the season and beating Porto in the final would be huge consolation for failing to give Porto a run for their money in the title race – the leaders have a massive 21 point lead with two matches remaining.
Man for man they have a stronger line-up than Braga with the imposing Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo leading the line, though, he is much more than just a target man as he demonstrated with his superb freekick in the first leg which proved to be the decisive goal in that match.
Their left sided Portuguese international midfielder Fabio Coentrao is under no illusions how difficult a task Braga will present.
"We wanted to win by more (in the first leg)," the 23-year-old told uefa.com
"But the reality is that we won 2-1 and we have a difficult game ahead of us in Braga. We have to arrive in Braga ready to achieve our objective and win."
Villarreal have nothing to lose in their home match and at least go into it having recovered some morale after a 2-1 home league win over Getafe last weekend.
However, they are really going to have to live up to their nickname of ‘yellow submarine’ if they are to torpedo Porto’s chances and as they have to go out and attack from the start, the Portuguese champions Colombian striker Falcao has every chance of adding to his record haul in the competition this season of 16.
Fixtures (both kick-offs 9:05PM)
At Braga, Portugal
Sporting Braga (POR) v Benfica (POR)
At Villarreal, Spain
Villarreal (ESP) v Porto (POR)