A resolute performance from SC Braga against Sevilla put them in contention for a place in the Champions League group stages.
Underdogs Braga were strong throughout and stopped the Spanish giants from gaining any control in the match, with a close-range goal from Matheus Leite Nascimento proving to be the difference between the two sides.
Sevilla had the better chances in a game which saw very few clear-cut openings.
After last season’s heroic second place finish in the Portuguese Liga, beating giants FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon to the Champions League play-off spot, Braga are looking to make it to the Champions League group stages for the first time in their history. After beating Celtic 4-2 on aggregate in the previous round, Braga came up against strong opposition in the first leg of the play-off.
Sevilla beat Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup only a few weeks ago and, although it was against a weakened Barca side, the win was a decent warm-up for the Rojiblancos. In Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano the Spanish side had a powerful, strong front line, with Jesus Navas and Diego Capel providing great width for the team. Braga started with three up front with Brazilian striker Alan, who scored one of the goals against Celtic to send the Scottish side crashing out, one of the three.
A tight first half with few chances started relatively brightly with Jesus Navas forcing his way past Braga left-back Elderson to cross to Fabiano, who headed against the post, giving Braga the chance to clear. Sevilla looked strong on both flanks and Capel looked to have carved an opening for the first goal of the match as his cross was met by Kanoute in the middle, who finished calmly from inside the area. Celebrations were cut short, though, as the linesman ruled the striker to be offside. The first forty-five minutes were mainly played in the middle of the pitch, with both sides lacking the cutting edge in the final third. The game began to get hostile towards the end of the half as Leandro Salino was booked for a foul on Capel. Braga did have a chance to score just a minute before half-time but Matheus couldn’t lift the ball over Felipe, who had charged out of his goal to come and meet the striker, after a fine pass from Miguel Garcia and poor defending from Julien Escude in the centre of defence for Sevilla.
Braga made changes early in the second half with Silvio Manuel Pereira coming on for Garcia at right-back, while Brazilian forward Lima was brought on for Luis Aguiar. The changes seemed to have an impact on the Arsenalistas.
A fine cross to the back post from Silvio found striker Paulo Cesar who fired a header towards goal. Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop saved and parried the ball straight on to the head of Matheus, who headed home and wheeled away to be greeted by huge celebrations in the AXA stadium.
Sevilla did have chances as Kanoute played a wonderful ball through the Braga defence to a speedy Capel who, after making his way into the area, lost his footing and composure when it really mattered. Navas had earlier hit the side netting after getting into a good position.
Braga attempted to double their lead soon after as Alan shot from twenty-five yards after Sevilla failed to clear. The ‘keeper, though, was more than comfortable when it came to stopping the shot.
The Spanish side were beginning to get desperate as the game wore on and former Tottenham striker Kanoute volleyed a shot tamely wide after a long punt up field from Palop. Kanoute was later substituted for Alvaro Negredo in what was a frustrating night for the Mali striker.
With three minutes to go Sevilla midfielder Diego Perotti fired a shot over the bar, while Lima hit a stinging shot against the bar at the other end. The Spanish giants never looked to be able to break down the Braga defence. Braga were impressive at their home stadium but could find it difficult in the hostile environment of the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in a week’s time.
SC Braga 1 – 0 Sevilla