Braga 1-0 Sporting
Braga are in the final of the Portuguese league cup after beating Sporting in a lively semi-final in Leiria tonight.
The Lisbon side hit the woodwork three times in the first half and spurned multiple chances, while Abel Ruiz put the ball in the net from only Braga’s second shot on target in 65th minute.
The Arsenalistas improved significantly after taking the lead and held on relatively comfortably to book their place in Saturday’s final.
Sporting coach Rúben Amorim was attempting to maintain his love affair with this competition by reaching the final for the fifth successive year.
Braga were first to threaten, Ricardo Horta testing Franco Israel’s reflexes with a backheel early on, but a confident Sporting – on the back of eight straight victories – went on to dominate the rest of a one-sided first hour.
In the 13th minute Pedro Gonçalves struck a tremendous 25-yard effort that arrowed past Braga goalkeeper Matheus but crashed back into play off the post.
Francisco Trincão was next to threaten, a slick move by Sporting opening up a shooting opportunity but Matheus was equal to the winger’s effort.
Nuno Santos was seeing plenty of the ball and the wing-back was desperately unlucky to see two efforts hit the frame of the goal in quick succession. First he latched onto a half-cleared corner, his powerful shot crashing off the underside of the bar, with the Brazilian goalkeeper getting a vital touch.
Moments later the energetic and enterprising Eduardo Quaresma was not far away after a superb run into the opposition box but his cross-shot whistled wide.
Santos completely flummoxed Matheus with an audacious flicked effort on the stroke of half time, the Brazilian goalkeeper relieved to see the ball again ricochet off the post.
The half time whistle went with Sporting wondering how they were not ahead.
Braga managed to stem Sporting’s attacking flow at the start of the second half, but Amorim’s men were soon back into their stride and looked likely to score. Viktor Gyökeres, who was well marshalled by the Braga defence all night, broke free in the 54th minute, but he dragged his shot wide.
Pote then played a give-and-go with Trincão to create a shooting opportunity, but hit his effort narrowly off target.
A typical marauding run by Gyökeres followed by an inviting cross set up another chance for Santos, but the wing-back could not keep his shot down.
Against the run of play, Braga took the lead in the 65th minute. The always composed Rodrigo Zalazar was the architect of the goal, the Uruguayan’s delicious cross headed past Israel by substitute Ruiz, who had only been on the pitch for five minutes.
Curiously, the goal marked a clear turn in the pattern of the match as Sporting’s chances dried up and a calm and collected Braga began to look the more dangerous side.
In the 69th minute Israel’s attempt to prevent a corner left the ball at the mercy of Abel Ruiz, the striker setting up Zalazar whose goal-bound effort hit Matheus Reis’ arm, preventing it from entering the net, Sporting somewhat fortunate not to concede a penalty after a VAR check.
Braga again came close to wrapping up the game soon afterwards, Israel making up for his earlier mistake with a superb double save to deny Victor Gómez and Ricardo Horta.
Try as they might, Sporting could not carve out any clear chances, hopeful shots from long range by Pedro Gonçalves and Morten Hjulmand failing to test Braga goalkeeper Matheus.
A word of appreciation for João Moutinho and José Fonte, the two veterans enjoying fine games as Braga at last beat one of the Big Three at the fifth time of asking this season.
Artur Jorge’s team will now rest up ahead of the final as they await the winners of tomorrow’s other semi-final between Estoril and Benfica.
By Tom Kundert
Braga: Matheus; Victor Gomez, José Fonte, Paulo Oliveira, Cristián Borja, Vítor Carvalho, João Moutinho, Pizzi (Abel Ruiz, 60’), Rodrigo Zalazar (Serdar Saatci, 87’), Álvaro Djaló (Roger Fernandes, 79’), Ricardo Horta
Sporting: Franco Israel, Gonçalo Inácio, Sebastián Coates (Matheus Reis, 68’), Eduardo Quaresma, Ricardo Esgaio (Paulinho, 68’), Morten Hjulmand, Pedro Gonçalves, Nuno Santos, Marcus Edwards (Daniel Bragança, 76’), Francisco Trincão, Viktor Gyökeres
[1-0] Abel Ruiz, 65’