Wolves and Olympiakos progress, Abel admits "failure"

It was an excellent night for Minho football and by extension Portuguese football as Sporting Braga and Vitória de Guimarães both progressed in their playoff ties to reach the Europa League groups. In Russia, Braga completed a highly impressive 3-1 aggregate win over Spartak Moscow, winning 2-1 on the night thanks to a Ricardo Horta brace. Back in Portugal, a goal from the penalty spot by Edmond Tapsoba was enough for Vitória de Guimarães to edge past Romanian outfit FCSB.

As for Portuguese interest elsewhere, PAOK coach Abel Ferreira admitted that his side's Europa League defeat to Slovan Bratislava was "a failure" following their shock elimination, but there was better news for Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolverhampton Wanderers and Pedro Martins' Olympiakos.


Spartak Moscow 1-2 Braga (aggregate 1-3)

Braga coach Sá Pinto made nine changes in relation to line-up against Gil Vicente at the weekend, with only João Novais and Vítor Tormena starting both games. The heavy rotation is Pinto’s answer to a hectic start to the season, with Europa League qualifying interspersed with a tough opening to the Liga. Braga have already played Sporting and face Benfica on Sunday.

And the series of high-intensity games helps explain injuries in the first half to Wilson Eduardo and Tormena which necessitated substitutions. Nevertheless, despite testing the squad to the limit, and whatever the domestic results, qualification to the group stage of the Europa League means the Arsenalistas will look upon the beginning of 2019/20 as a success. “The first objective of the season has been accomplished,” said two-goal hero Ricardo Horta after the final whistle.

Braga brought a 1-0 lead to Moscow and started comfortably. It took the hosts until midway through the first half to threaten, Dzhikiya’s long-range effort drawing a sharp save out of Matheus. Play immediately switched to the other end, the Horta brothers combining well with André setting up Ricardo, who forced a good stop by Spartak goalkeeper Maksimenko.

Spartak responded well and came close to levelling the tie twice in quick succession. First Ezequiel Ponce wriggled through the Braga defence and shot just wide, then French defender Gigot got up well to meet a cross and headed narrowly past the post.

Ricardo Horta wonder goal

Braga weathered the storm and the turning point of the match came in the 42nd from the irrepressible Ricardo Horta. The midfielder took a couple of touches 25 yards out and unleashed a magnificent curling effort that flew into the top corner leaving Maksimenko routed to his spot. Horta then effectively ended the tie as a contest when another shot from outside the box took a big deflection to wrong-foot the Spartak number one and nestle in the back of the net. Braga went into the break 3-0 up on aggregate with Ricardo Horta having scored all three goals.

Spartak needed an immediate goal in the second half to have any chance of an unlikely comeback, and were not that far away as Andre Schuerrle shot just over in the 46th minute. Braga were happy to soak up pressure, with Matheus saving from Ananidze and Gigot, but the result was never in doubt.

Spartak got a late consolation goal through Zelimkhan Bakayev, but a thoroughly professional performance by Braga over the two legs of the tie sees them deservedly through to the group stage of the competition having missed out last season. 

Ricardo Horta was keen to point out Braga had made it look easy against a high-quality team: “Those who think Spartak are an easy team are off the mark. Just look as Schuerrle who’s a World Cup winner.”


Vitória Guimarães 1-0 FCSB

The backdrop to the second leg of this tie had been dominated by less-than-flattering words from the Steaua owner Gigi Becali, who stated the Portuguese team would not be able to score against his side if they played for three days running, and that Ivo Vieira’s men would fight to avoid relegation if they played in the Romanian league, among other pearls of wisdom.

Despite the narrow 1-0 scoreline, Vitória laid bare the folly of Becali’s words with a dominant performance to complete a highly successful initial phase to their European campaign, ending the six qualifying stage matches with 5 victories and 1 draw, scoring 15 goals and conceding none.

Vitória have played some good football this season but have largely been wasteful in front of goal, and it was a case of more of the same tonight. Just two minutes in and Pepe Rodrigues was clean though on goal but could not beat Steaua goalkeeper Balgradean one and one, and as the loose ball fell to Bruno Duarte’s feet a goal seemed inevitable only for him to fluff the follow-up effort.

Rochinha was next to come close, smashing a shot into the side netting, and in a match of one-way traffic, Vitória went even closer just before half time. Bruno Duarte headed against the bar with the ball falling kindly to Denis Poha who blasted the rebound over bar when it seemed easier to score.

The ever vociferous Vitória crowd were finally able to celebrate in the 53rd minute as the charging Davidson was brought down in the box and Edmond Tapsoba showed nerves of steel to convert the resulting penalty and put the Portuguese side ahead in the tie.

As the home team continued to pour forward, Davidson and Rochinha were both inches away from doubling lead soon afterwards, but as the second goal did not come tension heightened at the Estádio Dom Henriques Afonso. On 90 minutes Vitória were denied by the woodwork again, João Carlos Teixeira’s header striking the post.

Amazingly, in virtually the last second of stoppage time Steaua at last created a clear chance, only for Iulian Cristea’s header from an excellent position to go straight at Douglas. It would have been an almighty injustice had the Portuguese team not progressed, and Vitória join Braga, Sporting and Porto as Portugal’s representatives in the Europa League.


Abel admits failure as PAOK suffer Europa exit

Abel Ferreira’s early career as coach of Greek champions PAOK suffered a significant setback on Thursday when they were eliminated from European competition at the hands of Slovakian underdogs Slovan Bratislava.

Having impressed observers during their Champions League qualifier against Ajax, Abel’s PAOK came into the Europa League playoff as strong favourite to progress to the group stage. However, a 1-0 defeat in Bratislava last week gave PAOK work to do in the return leg, and Abel’s task was made more difficult when Jurij Medvedev’s goal gave the visitors a half-time lead in Thessaloniki on Thursday evening.

Abel’s words – and changes - at half time had a sensational impact as PAOK emerged from the break to score twice inside the first five minutes of the second half. Goals from Dimitris Limnios and substitute Karol Widerski put the Greeks 2-1 up on 50 minutes and needing one more goal to progress, due to the Slovaks being in charge of the away goals rule.

However, Slovan pulled the score back to 2-2 on the night on the hour mark, leaving PAOK with half an hour to score twice and save their European season. Abel’s side pilled forward, racking up a remarkable 18 corners during the game, but although Dimitris Giannoulis’ 87th-minute goal gave them hope, the home side ran out of time and suffered a disappointing early European exit.

“This is a huge disappointment for us,” Abel admitted after the match. “Our game plan worked in the second half as we managed to score three goals, but the opponents scored a lucky goal at the other end. My feeling is that the tie was lost in Slovakia. We should never have conceded twice here either.

“I feel that we should have played with more concentration in Slovakia to avoid the situation which allowed them to score. We were prepared for the style of football which Slovan play. We took risks in the second half, and we had plenty of opportunities. Once again, I believe that the tie was lost in the first leg. This is a failure, because I know that PAOK must play in Europe.”


Nuno’s Wolves see off Torino

Wolverhampton Wanderers will play in European competition for the first time in 39 years after beating Italians Torino in both legs of their Europa League play-off. Nuno Espírito Santo’s side beat the Serie A outfit 2-1 on Thursday, following up from a 3-2 win in Turin last week to complete an impressive showing against a tough opponent for the Premier League side.

Nuno had Rui Patrício, João Moutinho and Diogo Jota in his starting line-up for the return leg, with Rúben Neves again selected on the bench, where he was joined by Pedro Neto and Rúben Vinagre. Former Benfica striker Raul Jimenez and Belgian midfielder Leander Dendoncker scored the goals for Wolves, either side of a strike from Torino frontman Andrea Belotti.

“It’s fantastic,” Nuno said. “Work that started two years ago in the Championship, building and building. What the boys did is fantastic, a small squad, but they worked. The staff too, that’s why they went to the pitch because they deserve a lot of credit. They were so important for us, the guys behind-the-scenes, massive.

“The way they (the supporters) push us, they are the 12th man on the pitch. They’re so important, congratulations to them, we’re going to see big games and we want to play.”

“We want to compete. I don’t know who we’re going to face yet. We want to play. Sunday we have another game, tomorrow after training we’ll sit down and watch the draw. That will be a pleasure for all Wolves fans.”


Europa round-up: AEK edged out in Turkey

AEK Athens played their first match since removing coach Miguel Cardoso on Thursday, and the decision was somewhat vindicated as the Greek side made a strong effort of overturning a seemingly impossible tie against Trabzonspor of Turkey. AEK trailed 3-1 from the first leg in Greece, but without Cardoso at the helm managed a valiant 2-0 win away from home in the return, meaning a narrow exit on away goals.

AEK started with a reduced number of Portuguese for the match, with Hélder Lopes and Nelson Oliveira starting the match, but no sign of André Simões or David Simão, while Paulinho was dropped to the bench. AEK were two goals up at half time, but an inability to get the crucial third was compounded when Lopes was sent off in injury time.

Feyenoord moved into the group phase thanks to a 3-0 win at Hapoel Be’er Sheva, which was a repeat of the scoreline from the first leg. Edgar Ié again played in defence for the Dutch side, while Miguel Vítor started for the Israelis. Fellow Eredivisie outfit PSV, without the injured Bruma, saw off Apollon of Cyprus, who had João Pedro in midfield, with a resounding 4-0 win (7-0 agg) while Gonçalo Paciência started in Frankfurt’s 3-0 victory over Strasbourg which took the Germans through 3-1 overall.

There was late heartbreak for Legia Warsaw when the only goal of their tie with Rangers came in favour of the Scottish team in the dying minutes of the second leg in Glasgow. Luís Rocha, André Martins and Cafú all started for Legia, who were Poland’s last remaining representative in European competition.

The bad luck stories continued with Ivo Rodrigues and Belgians Antwerp eliminated at the hands of Dutch side AZ in extra time, while Ararat-Armenia were cruelly denied a place in the group phase on penalties against Luxembourg’s F91 Dudelange, despite ex-Famalicão defender Ângelo converting his spot kick.


Champions League: Martins’ Olympiakos ease through; Tomané sent off as Red Star progress

Greek giants Olympiacos made light work of FC Porto’s conquerors Krasnodar after a 2-1 win in Russia completed a 6-1 aggregate victory and earned Pedro Martins’ side a place in the Champions League group phase.

Olympiacos carried a strong lead coming into the second leg thanks to a flurry of late goals last week, but an aggressive start from the Russians led to an early 1-0 lead in the return and thought of another potential comeback. However, Daniil Utkin’s 10th-minute opener was immediately cancelled out by Youssef El-Arabi, with the goal to make it 1-1 all but ending the tie as it left Krasnodar needing a 5-1 victory.

As it was, Al-Arabi added another during the second half to give the travelling Greeks victory on the night. Martins started with Portuguese trio José Sá, Rúben Semedo and Daniel Podence, who saw his appeals for a second half penalty waved away, on a night that ultimately earned Martins’ side a spot in Group B alongside Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Red Star Belgrade.

“Making it to the Champions League group stage is very important,” former Vitória Guimarães boss Martins said. “I would like to dedicate this qualification to our players, all staff members and, certainly, our fans. Nothing would have been achieved if it wasn’t for our President. We are really happy to qualify since this promotes our club’s image and lift the status of Greek football.

“It is my pleasure to watch players working this way and deliver the things I want. The fact that, after 6 matches, players perform this way; it feels me with pleasure. Last two encounters have been tough against a contender for this year’s Russian championship. It was our performance that made things seem easy.”

Red Star secured their spot in the group thanks to an away goals progression against Swiss side Young Boys. The teams played out a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Bern, before Red Star hosted the return in Belgrade and a 1-1 draw saw them through. Portuguese striker Tomané was sent off in stoppage time, having entered the action as a substitute, for two bookable offences.

Romanian champions CFR Cluj did not make it through to the group phase, with a 1-0 defeat to Slavia Prague away from home a repeat of the scoreline from the first leg. Portuguese duo Camora and Luís Aurélio started for Cluj. Cypriots APOEL kept Dutch giants Ajax at bay for almost three quarters of their tie, but after a goalless draw in the first leg APOEL succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Amsterdam, with former Tondela defender Joãozinho and striker André Vidigal both involved in the action.

By Tom Kundert & Sean Gillen


Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Its great that Braga managed to get through along with Victoria and now we have 4 good enough teams to make up the points to catch the Russians in the Europa League.

I didn't watch Braga's game but I did watch Victoria... and let me suggest that...

Its great that Braga managed to get through along with Victoria and now we have 4 good enough teams to make up the points to catch the Russians in the Europa League.

I didn't watch Braga's game but I did watch Victoria... and let me suggest that Victoria get new strikers or at least buy the current ones new finishing boots because they missed far too many chances to complete demolish this Romanian team, it could've been about 5+ goals for Victoria at the bare minimal.

So is the Romanian club owner going to cut off his own head now that this terrible Portuguese club that wouldn't even survive the Romanian league has beaten them?

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Those were two massive wins for Portuguese football! The Braga-Spartak Moscow match up was particularly important given the uefa coefficient and Braga stepped up big time.

It was also great to see Vitoria Guimaraes advance past their Romanian...

Those were two massive wins for Portuguese football! The Braga-Spartak Moscow match up was particularly important given the uefa coefficient and Braga stepped up big time.

It was also great to see Vitoria Guimaraes advance past their Romanian opponents, especially considering the classless comments made by their president. I didn't watch the game, but after looking back at the highlights, I saw just how one-sided the match really was. Had Vitoria's players decided to bring their shooting boots, they could have realistically won this game by 4 or 5 goals!

Making it out of their respective groups, however, will prove to be very difficult. Braga will have to contend with Besiktas and Wolves, and Vitoria have been grouped with Arsenal, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Standard Liege -- very difficult groups, on paper at least.

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“We deserved this qualification, not only for these two games against Arsenal but also for our spirited performances in Europe throughout the season regardless of the results.”

Pedro Martins
(Olympiacos' Portuguese coach after sensational Europa League victory over Arsenal)