Europa League: Braga march on, Sporting go top, Vitória draw, Porto crash to defeat

Portugal’s representatives in the Europa League experienced the full range of results this week, with Braga again the leading lights, beating Besiktas 3-1 to all but secure qualification to the knockout round after earning 10 points from a possible 12 in what had appeared a tough group.

Sporting made it three straight wins in the competition to go top of Group D as two first-half goals saw off Rosenborg. Vitória Guimarães got a richly deserved draw at home to Arsenal, but Porto’s disappointing Europa League campaign took a turn for the worse with defeat in Scotland that sees them fall to bottom of Group G.

Elsewhere, Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves grabbed a late winner, Manuel Fernandes scored as Krasnodar won, but it was defeat for Paulo Fonseca’s Roma and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Portuguese strike duo of Gonçalo Paciência and André Silva. PortuGOAL rounds up all the action. 


Braga 3-1 Besiktas

Braga’s impressive Europa League run continues, after a 3-1 victory over Besiktas to make qualification everything but official.

It didn’t take long for Ricardo Sá Pinto’s team to get ahead when Paulinho found acres of space from a corner to head strongly past Loris Karius from close range. However, despite the home side’s early dominance, the Turkish outfit grabbed the equaliser just before the half-hour mark. Former Guimarães player Tyler Boyd did well to find space in the Braga penalty area and slot home. A goal-line clearance prevented Besiktas from taking the lead within seconds of the equaliser.

Galeno was always a threat down the left, and he provided a great cross for Paulinho, who was able to improvise a finish. Life became much easier for Braga just before half-time when Jermain Lens was harshly awarded a red card for a tackle on João Palhinha, and from there on it was an easy game.

Wilson Eduardo made a great cameo from the bench in the second half – first forcing Karius into a good save soon after his introduction. He put the game to the bed when he found space in the box to tap in another Galeno cross and finish the game off for Braga. Although Braga aren’t mathematically qualified yet, the coming game against Wolverhampton Wanderers after the international break should determine who tops Group K.

“We came in very strong, we were focused, determined to impose our game from the start,” said a satisfied Ricardo Sá Pinto. “We were very competent, a team that played with great intelligence, wisdom, soul, and organisation.”



Rosenborg 0-2 Sporting

Coming off a dispiriting defeat to Tondela in the Primeira Liga, Sporting bounced back to win three vital points and go top of their section. Coach Silas again switched tactics, selecting a three-man defence, and two of them combined to give the Lions an early lead, Neto’s well delivered cross headed powerfully into the net by Coates.

Sporting doubled their advantage in the 38th minute, Doumbia winning the ball near the halfway line and releasing captain Bruno Fernandes, who cut inside the box and fired a deflected left-foot shot into the roof of the net.

The Portuguese side limited themselves to defending their advantage in a non-descript second half, only notable for Lundemo’s long-range strike late on that struck the post, with Sporting goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro doing well to keep out the rebound.

“We were intelligent, we played an excellent game,” said captain Bruno Fernandes. “Defensively we were very strong and we have to keep this us.”

Sporting top Group D on 9 points, two more than Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven and Austrian side LASK, their next two opponents.


Rangers 2-0 Porto

Porto have been desperately poor in the Europa League this season and another substandard performance saw the Dragons well beaten by Rangers in Scotland.

The visitors started brightly enough, with Pepe’s effort from a corner cleared off the line in the 8th minute and the Portuguese side dominating possession early on. But roared on by a big crowd, Rangers gradually levelled up matters without truly troubling the Porto defence. In the 35th minute a spectacular diving save by McGregor tipped Soares’ goalbound header over the bar, although the referee subsequently brought back play for offside.

There was a blow at the start of the second half for Porto as Pepe was forced off through injury, and the hosts gradually turned up the pressure as Porto failed to get any attacking momentum going.

Rangers took the lead in the 69th minute when Colombian dangerman Morelos was given too much room at the top of the box, and he produced a fine left-footed finish that gave Porto goalkeeper Marchesín no chance. One soon became two as Morelos turned provider, finding Davis who fired into the net from a similar distance.

The hosts never looked in any danger of losing their lead, with a tame header over the bar by Zé Luís the best Porto could muster.

Porto coach Sérgio Conceição recognised that his side has come up short in the Europa League. “The truth is we haven’t put in the performances we wanted and have lacked consistency in Europe,” he said. “When the time’s right we’ll talk about this competition, but now we have to think about Porto’s main aim, which is the league.”


Vitória de Guimarães 1-1 Arsenal

Vitória de Guimarães finally got the Europa League point they have so deserved and will feel that in fact they should have taken all three.

Because of Braga’s Thursday night game against Besiktas, UEFA regulations meant Vitória had to play their game on Wednesday afternoon, as both games in one night would apparently just be too much action for the Minho region.

Vitória were the better team in the first half, and were unfortunate not to find a way through a shaky Arsenal defence. However, it was the Arsenal defence that provided the visitors with their goal when Shkodran Mustafi headed in close range from an Arsenal set-piece. It was the Gunners only shot on target in during the whole game, a cruel blow to Guimarães.

The home side didn’t give up however, and they got their reward late on when Bruno Duarte’s scissor kick found its way past Emiliano Martínez after great work on the right from Marcus Edwards.

Coach Ivo Vieira was still frustrated that his team couldn’t find a win: “once again we had more goal situations than the opponent and more offensive volume, but we couldn’t translate that into goals. At least there’s the comfort of having added a point but in reality Vitória should have had more points.”


Portuguese Abroad round-up

Wolves continue to prosper in Europe, although Nuno’s team required a late goal to secure all three points against Slovan Bratislava. Rui Patrício, Rúben Neves, João Moutinho, Rúben Vinagre and Pedro Neto were all in the starting line-up for Wolves, but it appeared they would have to settle for a goalless draw, especially when Neves failed to convert a second-half penalty. Cometh the hour, cometh the Mexican, as a stoppage time goal from former Benfica striker Raúl Jiménez gave the home team victory ahead of their trip to Braga at the end of the month.

It was not good news for another Portuguese coach, however, as Paulo Fonseca’s Roma went down 2-1 at Borussia Monchengladbach, a stoppage time goal by Marcus Thuram proving decisive. Roma fall to third in Group J and next face a trip to leaders Istanbul Basaksehir.

Also with qualification to the knockouts in the balance is Eintracht Frankfurt, as a 2-1 defeat in Belgium against Standard Liege sees the Germans drop to 3rd place in Group F. Gonçalo Paciência and André Silva were both selected in Portugal’s squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers earlier in the day, but that was where the good news ended as both were substituted off in the second half.

In Russia former Portuguese international Manuel Fernandes was on the scoresheet, scoring his side’s second goal having created the first in a 3-1 victory at home to Trabzonspor that moves the Russian outfit up to second in Group C.

By Richard Cole & Tom Kundert