Braga 1-1 Estoril (Braga win 5-4 on penalties)
It was far from straightforward but Braga did justice to their favourites tag by beating Estoril in the final of the Portuguese league cup in Leiria tonight to claim the first major piece of silverware of the Portuguese domestic season.
Estoril took an early lead through a Cassiano penalty, but Braga responded quickly via an exceptional long-range volley from captain Ricardo Horta. A largely attritional match ensued with no further goals, the northerners coming out on top in the penalty shootout.
Braga coach Artur Jorge rewarded matchwinner from the semi-final Abel Ruiz with a starting place, coming in for Pizzi. Estoril boss Vasco Seabra made three changes. Flying wing-back Rodrigo Gomes could not play because he is on loan from Braga, while Volnei and Heriberto were dropped, Pedro Álvaro, Tiago Araújo and João Marques all starting.
The match got off to an explosive start with Estoril taking the lead from their first incursion into the Braga box. João Marques played a diagonal ball behind José Fonte, the experienced centre-back getting into a tangle with Estoril striker Cassiano, who immediately appealed for a penalty.
The referee initially ignored his protestations, but after being invited to look at the incident on the pitch-side monitor by VAR he changed his mind and pointed to the spot. Cassiano himself took the penalty, calmly stroking the ball past Matheus to give the underdogs an early lead.
Braga immediately pushed forward in search of the equaliser, Ricardo Horta denied by an excellent Dani Figueira save from close range, but the offside flag had been raised.
Abel Ruiz was next to threaten, bringing down a long ball over the top expertly, advancing into the box and testing Figueira with a firm shot, which the Estoril goalkeeper kept out with his chest.
Ricardo Horta tried his luck from distance in the 15th minute, his harmless shot from distance squirming wide, but the Braga captain had far better luck with his next effort.
Horta wonder strike
A corner on the left flank was taken by Rodrigo Zalazar, the Uruguayan opting for an unusual delivery to the edge of the 18-yard-box where the waiting Horta caught it first-time with the sweetest of connections to send a right-foot volley flying into the net, giving Figueira absolutely no chance.
After the excitement of the opening 20 minutes, the chances dried up in the rest of the half, the game punctuated by constant fouls with the referee handing out yellow cards like confetti.
The second half was something of a letdown. Both sides huffed and puffed, there was no lack of effort with full commitment from all the players, but there was little finesse on show or goalmouth action with the two goalkeepers having a relatively quiet evening.
Estoril fans in good voice
That said, the lack chances did not reduce the tension, with Estoril’s superb contingent of fans singing loudly throughout and sensing their team could be on the cusp of history. The modest club from the Lisbon coast had never won a major trophy.
Braga hogged most of the possession and created a clear chance to win it in the 84th minute. A quick break had Estoril goalkeeper Dani Figueira struggling apparently out of position, the ball laid back to Pizzi whose 10-yard effort was saved by the legs of the recovering goalkeeper.
Six minutes of stoppage time failed to yield a dramatic ending and so a penalty shootout would decide the winners. The first nine spot kicks were all converted, with Tiago Araújo the unfortunate player who missed, the young full-back unable to control his nerves and blasting his effort high, wide and not very handsome, immediately flopping to the ground in despair as Braga’s players ran wild in celebration.
Campeões de Inverno
Congratulations to Braga who win the trophy for the third time and earn the traditional nickname bestowed on the victors of the Taça da Liga of “Winter Champions of Portugal”.
By Tom Kundert at the Estádio Municipal de Leiria Dr. Magalhães Pessoa
Braga XI: Matheus, Victor Gomez (Joe Mendes, 77’, José Fonte (Serdar Saatci, 77’), Paulo Oliveira, Cristian Borja, Vitor Carvalho (Al Musrati, 67’), João Moutinho, Rodrigo Zalazar (Pizzi, 67’), Álvaro Djalo (Roger, 55’), Ricardo Horta, Abel Ruiz
Estoril XI: Dani Figueira, Pedro Álvaro (Volnei, 63’), Bernardo Vital, Eliaquim Mangala, , Tiago Araújo, Koba Koindredi, (Jordan Holsgrove, 59’) Mateus Fernandes, Wagner Pina, João Marques, Rafik Guitane (Heriberto, 85’), Cassiano (Allejandro Marques, 59’
[0-1] Cassiano (pen), 4’
[1-1] Ricardo Horta, 20’