Who Braga, Guimaraes and Wolves face in the Europa League playoff - preview and odds of victory
All three sides of Portuguese interest have managed to make it to the Europa League play-off round, and are just one tie away from the group stage.
Wolverhampton Wanderers, before this season, had not qualified for European competition since 1980, when they lost 3-2 to PSV in the UEFA Cup.
Braga, meanwhile, failed to advance past the Europa League second qualifying round last year, losing on away goals to Zorya. The season before that, they reached the Europa League round of 32.
And Guimaraes also failed to qualify for European competition last campaign, their last apearance in the Europa League coming the season before in 2017-18, where they finished bottom of a group containing Salzburg, Marseille and Konyaspor, accumulating a respectable 5 points.
Now, however, they all have a chance of advancing to the group stage simultaneously in addition to both FC Porto and Sporting CP. That could be considered something of a spectacular triumph for Portuguese football.
Here though, we take a look at who each team has to face, and how the bookies rate their chances of progression:
Play-off opposition: Spartak Moscow
Braga’s run to the play-off: Braga 7-3 Brondby (4-2 away win, 3-1 home win).
Spartak’s run to the play-off: Spartak Moscow 5-3 FC Thun (3-2 away win, 2-1 home win).
Braga and Spartak Moscow have never met in a competitive match before, adding further intrigue to a clash that, on paper, looks set to be a tightly contested battle.
Braga are the seeded side going into the draw, and will deem themselves unfortunate to have drawn such tricky opposition. Spartak were quite comfortably the hardest possible opponent Braga could have had.
Spartak Moscow won the Russian Premier League as recently as 2017, further showing that they are a team to be feared. Last season, though, they only managed a 5th place finish, meaning that they could not even claim to be the second best team in Moscow, finishing below both Lokomotiv and CSKA.
They have already played 6 league matches this campaign, winning three of them to put them in 4th place in the current league standings.
However, while they are looking good domestically, they did have to face rivals CSKA Moscow yesterday (Monday 19th August), just 3 days before they have to face Braga in Portugal. Braga, therefore, have a whole day extra rest, as well as the home advantage, going into Thursday’s match.
Who’s the favourite?
With that all in mind, it is unsurprising to hear that Braga are actually comfortable favourites to overcome Spartak Moscow, in the first leg anyway.
In terms of the odds, Braga are 1.62 to win the first leg; compare that to Spartak Moscow, who are at 5.5, and it becomes clear that Braga are the side the bookies are backing.
Overall, however, qualification is far more difficult to call according to the odds makers, with Braga sitting at 1.6, Spartak at 2.25. Braga still the favourites, but little to separate them.
To win first leg: Braga: 1.60; Draw: 3.8; Spartak: 5.5.
To qualify: Braga: 1.60. Spartak: 2.25.
Play-off opposition: FCSB
Guimaraes’ run to the play-off: Guimaraes 5-0 Jeunesse Esch (1-0 away win, 4-0 home win); Guimaraes 9-0 Ventspils (3-0 away win, 6-0 home win)
FCSB’s run to the play-off: FCSB 4-1 Milsami Orhei (2-0 home win, 2-1 away win); FCSB 5-3 Alashkert (2-3 home loss, 3-0 away win); FCSB 1-0 Mlada Boleslav (0-0 home draw, 1-0 away win).
Guimarães have a respectable albeit unspectacular record in European competition. For a club outside the "Big Four" in the Portuguese game, they can be proud of their continental endeavours and their ability to represent Portuguese football on the European stage.
That said, they have never managed to advance past the group stage of European competition - and will be hoping to at least match their best ever European season by getting through the play-off round.
It won’t be easy though. Being the unseeded side for the play-off draw, Guimaraes knew that they faced an uphill battle to qualify for the Europa League group stage, though did avoid some of the biggest hitters by drawing Steau Bucharest - FCSB.
FCSB are no easy match, of course, and many would back them to triumph over Guimaraes, but the Portuguese outfit will fancy their chances, and their good form in European competition so far this season will give them additional confidence that they can overcome their Romanian opponents and snatch victory.
Who’s the favourite?
Guimarães are a side in tremendous form in this competition, having won all four of their matches, scoring 14 in the process without conceding.
As a result, Guimarães, despite being the unseeded side in the tie, are well fancied to get to the group stage, and are even considered the favourites by some bookmakers tonot only qualify, but to actually win the first leg away from home.
To win first leg: FCSB: 2.90; Draw: 3.20; Guimaraes: 2.5.
To qualify: Guimaraes: 1.45. FCSB: 2.6.
Play-off opposition: Torino
Wolves'’ run to the play-off: Wolves 6-1 Crusaders (2-0 home win, 4-1 away win); Wolves 8-0 Pyunik (4-0 away win, 4-0 home win)
Torino’s run to the play-off: Torino 7-1 Debrecen (3-0 home win, 4-1 away win). Torino 6-1 Shakhtyor Soligorsk (5-0 home win, 1-1 away draw).
Wolves were, like Braga, handed what was the hardest possible draw, at least on paper. Also one of the seeded sides in the draw, Wolves can consider themselves incredibly unfortunate to have been paired with a side the calibre of Torino, who are a very strong outfit playing in a very strong league.
Indeed, this pairing has more of a Europa League group stage feel to it rather than a play-off clash, and it is certainly one of the ties of the round.
Both sets of fans will be a little daunted by the opposition - though both will equally be cautiously optimistic of confirming a place in the group stage of Europe’s secondary competition.
Who’s the favourite?
It’s an interesting question, and one that the bookies have quite clearly struggled to answer. With no reference before this meeting to judge how similar the sides are, this game could quite feasibly go either way, and that’s reflected in the odds.
As such, Torino, due to their home advantage, are made favourites to win the first leg - though it is close, and the bookies have made it clear that this is not a match they are comfortable with predicting.
Overall, however, across the two legs it is Wolverhampton Wanderers that are deemed the favourites to progress - and, perhaps surprisingly, quite comfortably too.
To win first leg: Torino: 2.30; Draw: 3.25; Wolves: 3.10.
To qualify: Wolves: 1.53. Torino: 2.38.