Fiorentina beat Braga 3-2 to end the Warriors’ Europa Conference League hopes

Braga are out of Europe after a 3-2 defeat against Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League knockout round play-off second leg at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Trailing 4-0 after a disastrous first leg in Portugal, André Castro and Álvaro Djaló scored in the opening 34 minutes to give the travelling support hope of a monumental upset.

Rolando Mandragora scored two minutes later however, the Italian club going into the break with a 5-2 lead on aggregate.

Braga failed to take their chances in the second half, Riccardo Saponara equalising and Arthur Cabral netting a late winner to send Fiorentina into the Round of 16.

Braga take a 2-0 lead

Tiago Sá got a rare start in goal and was called into action early when he tipped a Nicolás González header over the bar.

Braga took the lead in the 16th minute with a move started and finished by André Castro. The 34-year-old released Rodrigo Gomes who forced a save from Salvatore Sirigu, the ball eventually finding its way back to Castro who volleyed it into the bottom corner.

Álvaro Djaló’s low drive forced a save from Sirigu and Simon Banza’s shot was blocked with the home crowd voicing their displeasure. Their frustrations increased in the 34th minute when Fiorentina fell 2-0 behind.

Pizzi’s long ball was flicked on by Banza, Djaló chesting the ball down and volleying it past Sirigu.

Fiorentina respond

Any thoughts Braga had of producing an unlikely turnaround were largely extinguished three minutes later.

Giacomo Bonaventura got into the box and delivered a cross towards the penalty spot, Rolando Mandragora getting ahead of Joe Mendes with his shot deflected past Sá.

Fiorentina finished the first half strong, González’s header tipped over by Sá and Mandragora unable to steer another headed effort on target.

Goal line technology drama

The match turned into a farce in the 49th minute when Sá appeared to claw an Arthur Cabral effort off the line.

Benoît Bastien signaled that goal line technology had ruled it a goal, but after minutes of waiting the referee went to watch replays on the touchline monitor, eventually deciding that the technology had malfunctioned and disallowing the goal.

Fiorentina cruise into the Round of 16

A loose pass from Bonaventura presented Rodrigo Gomes with a chance, the winger getting past Cristiano Biraghi but unable to keep his shot down.

Bonaventura made up for his mistake less than 60 second later, bursting through the middle of the pitch and rolling the ball into the path of Riccardo Saponara who steered it into the bottom corner.

Gomes missed a great chance to score after a contentious free kick, rounding Sirigu but unable to control the ball with an open net awaiting him.

The 19-year-old saw another effort deflected over the bar before Fiorentina scored the winning goal in the 83th minute. Bonaventura was involved once again, his cross picking out Cabral who volleyed past Sá.

Braga's European disappointment largely self-inflicted

Braga had a great chance to continue in the Europa League, finishing third in Group D after conceding two late goals in a 2-1 home defeat to Union Saint-Gilloise and blowing a 3-1 lead against the Belgian club in Leuven.

Dropping into the Europa Conference League, the damage was done in the knockout round play-off first leg. Down 1-0 to Fiorentina when Vítor Tormena was sent off in the 55th minute, an eventual 4-0 defeat meant it was always going to be an uphill battle.

There was some hope after taking a 2-0 lead in Italy, but shutting down Fiorentina on their own pitch proved impossible.

Artur Jorge handed rare starts to Tiago Sá, Joe Mendes, Cristián Borja, André Castro, Pizzi, Rodrigo Gomes, Álvaro Djaló and brought Serdar Saatçi off the bench late on, those players to receive some benefit from the experience.

Plenty to play for in Portugal

Braga still have plenty to play for this season. They sit third in the Primeira Liga, seven points behind Benfica and two behind Porto, and enjoy an eight point lead over Sporting Clube de Portugal.

The Warriors have a favourable matchup in the Taça de Portugal semi-finals where they face Nacional da Madeira over two legs.

By Matthew Marshall at Stadio Artemio Franchi