Mixed fortunes for Portuguese clubs in Europa League as Braga secure impressive victory at Wolves
Having seen Benfica kick-off their Champions League campaign with home defeat at the hands of RB Leipzig, there was more despair for two Portuguese clubs in the Europa League, while Porto and Braga both secured crucial wins to start the group stage in style.
In the earlier kick-offs, there was not a lot to shout about from a Portuguese perspective, with Sporting unable to handle the attacking flair of an in-form PSV side. Their trip to The Netherlands ended in disappointment, with the hosts coming out as 3-2 victors.
PSV scored twice in the opening 25 minutes, a well-taken Donyell Manel effort followed up by an own goal from Sebastian Coates.
Sporting had looked decent themselves in the match, but with the two goal deficit, few would have fancied Sporting to make a comeback.
Hope was regained 6 minutes before half time though, when Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty emphatically to half PSV’s lead and ensure that Sporting went into the break just one goal down.
Expectations of a comeback were brief, though, with Timo Baumgarti capitalising on some questionable defending to restore PSV’s two goal advantage.
Sporting did find the back of the net again, substitute Pedro Mendes scoring the goal of the night on the turn from edge of the box, but it was nothing more than a consolation.
Sporting will not be too disheartened though; on paper, PSV was always going to be their hardest match, and with LASK and Rosenborg coming up next, they will be hoping for 9 points from their next 9 games to turn their fortunes around.
In the other early kick-off, there was more disappointment, as two second half goals from Standard Liege in Belgium all but ended any hopes Guimaraes had of making it out of a tough group that also contains Eintracht Frankfurt and Arsenal.
It was in the two late kick-offs that Portuguese sides impressed, though, with FC Porto securing a narrow home victory against Young Boys and Braga battling to a highly impressive 0-1 win versus Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
Porto’s quality was often on show against the Swiss champions, with good attacking movement, particularly in the first half, pleasing the onlooking Porto fans. Tiquinho Soares put the team in front early on, a well-placed finish giving Porto an expected lead.
It didn’t last for long though; with Marchesin bringing down his man in the box, Young Boys were awarded a penalty, which was converted by Pierre Nsame.
Fourteen minutes later though, Porto edged back in front, another swift attacking move resulting in Tiquinho tapping home after a good pass across the goal mouth from Jesus Corona.
That was enough to secure victory for Porto, closing out all three points despite Young Boys rallying in the second half and starting to put the hosts under a bit of pressure.
If that wasn’t enough, there was more joy for Portuguese outfits in the other away fixture, Braga earning a slender 1-0 win in England against Wolves.
It was a tense game for the most part, with Wolves seeing more of the ball and having more goalscoring opportunities.
Braga turned up with a game plan though, and were clearly happy to defend in numbers and look to counter.
And it worked a treat for Ricardo Sa Pinto’s side as Wolves really struggled to break down an organised and hard working Braga outfit, who played in the manner you would expect of a Sa Pinto team, battling for every ball and putting their bodies on the line when it mattered most.
That resilience was what let Braga go into the break level, and although they had the first chance of the second half, had to continue to play in a similar manner for the rest of the match, remaining composed and willing to rely on their defensive ability to see them through.
With their backs to the wall for the most part, it was their opponents Wolves that saw the vast majority of the ball, and looked incredibly threatening for the first 10 minutes of the second half. As a result, an imminent goal for the host was almost seeming inevitable.
However, one crucial moment managed to halt Wolves’ momentum and put the game back on a knife edge - and that was when Braga goalkeeper Matheus went down with a ‘knock.’ Wolves fans would be right to be cynical and question the legitimacy of Matheus’ injury, with it conveniently coming when Wolves were very much on top and going through the best period of the first half.
And, in truth, no-one could blame Wolves fans for concluding that Matheus very probably exaggerated the extent of his inury to the advantage of his own team, perhaps a bit of gamesmanship from the experienced ‘keeper to give Braga a bit of a much-needed breather and stop Wolves’ growing momentum and confidence as quickly as possible. Frowned upon, infuriating, but very probably entirely neccessary to give Braga any chance at all of earning victory against a Wolves side who were relentlessly coming at them and looking on the verge of scoring.
Indeed, Matheus, with so much experience in his locker, is a master of controlling the tempo of a match, and has managed to do so to the advantage of Braga many times throughout his career at the club, be it taking a little longer at goal kicks at the end of tight matches, or falling to the floor upon catching a cross to eat up some time when Braga are ahead and trying to close out the game. This was one of those times as, after the stoppage to treat his injury, Wolves just didn’t look the same, their tempo and intensity dropping considerably.
From that point, Braga still looked most threatening when on the counter, and capitalised on their one excellent goalscoring opportunity when a hard-working Galeno won the ball off Bennett at the half way line before dribbling deep into the opposition half. With Braga getting numbers forwards, Galeno then placed a perfect ball across to Braga’s star man Ricardo Horta, who lashed home past Rui Patricio to put Braga 1-0 ahead.