18th of May, 2011: Dublin Arena - 7.45PM, GMT
This is FC Porto's 5th European final and 2nd Uefa Cup final. Porto have won 2 Champions Leagues in their history, a 2-1 victory against Bayern München and a 3-0 win against Monaco. In their first ever final of this competition, the current Portuguese champions beat Celtic 3-2 in extra-time.
Porto have had an excellent season that started with a victory in Super Cup against rivals Benfica. They went on to win the Portuguese league by 21 points, a competition in which they finished undefeated and are also in the final of the Portuguese Cup.
Porto's Europa League campaign has been almost flawless, with great football and a lot of goals. They started by beating Genk in the Play-offs with an aggregated score of 7-2. In the group stages, Porto faced Besiktas, Rapid Wien and CSKA Sofia. The Dragons finished in first place with 16 points, 14 goals scored and only 4 conceded.
Porto carried on to the Round of 16 where they faced Sevilla, team which they eliminated on away goals after an aggregated score of 2-2. In the next two rounds, the Portuguese champions beat two Russian sides, first CSKA Moscow with an aggregated score of 3-1 and later Spartak Moscow with an aggregated score of 10-3. In the semi-finals, Porto faced their toughest test yet - La Liga's 4th placed team Villarreal. Porto shocked Europe and won the first leg 5-1. In Spain, Porto were winning 2-1, but ended up conceding two goals near the end of the match.
Goalkeepers: Helton e Beto;
Defenders: Maicon, Álvaro Pereira, Rolando, Sereno, Sapunaru e Otamendi;
Midfielders: Guarín, Belluschi, João Moutinho, Fernando, Souza, Rúben Micael, Varela e James;
Forwards: Falcao, Hulk e Walter.
Injuries & Suspensions
The Uruguayan duo Cristian Rodriguez (calf injury) and Jorge Fucile (shoulder injury) couldn't recover in time for this match, while Portuguese defender Emidio Rafael (broken leg) has been injured for many months. There are no players suspended.
Sapunaru -- Rolando - Otamendi -- Alvaro Pereira
Guarin - Moutinho
Hulk - Falcao - Varela
Team coach André Villas-Boas has used a 433 formation all season long and will surely use it again. Most starters are easy to predict, with only one doubt remaining - the left winger. Silvestre Varela was the starter during the first half of the season, but after some injury problems, the teenage sensation James Rodriguez took over. Since March, Cristian Rodriguez returned to fitness and earned a place in the starting line-up. With Cristian out of the equation, it will be between James and Varela. I think Villas-Boas will opt for Varela given his experience and great goal scoring ability.
Falcao and Hulk
Radamel Falcao is the current Europa League top scorer with 16 goals. He surpassed Jürgen Klinsmann's record of 15 goals in one season. The Colombian has been one of the most prolific strikers in European football this season and has scored a total of 36 goals this season, despite missing a month due to injury. The Incredible Hulk was the Portuguese league top scorer with 23 goals. His technique, explosiveness and shooting ability make him one of the most dangerous forwards in Europe. He has scored 35 goals this season and made 17 assists.
S.C. Braga (by Riva Bianconer8)
*(Pretty weird to be the entire roster, but Domingos did called all of them)
Goalkeepers: Artur, Quim, Marcos, Cristiano
Defenders: Miguel Garcia, Sílvio, Dani, Paulão, Rodriguez, Kaka, Aníbal, Elderson, Marco Ramos
Midfielders: Vandinho, Custódio, Salino, Vinicius, Peterson, Guilherme, Hugo Viana
Strikers / Wingers: Mossoró, Alan, Hélder Barbosa, Ukra, Paulo César, Lima, Keita and Meyong.
Defenders: Miguel Garcia - Paulão / Kaká - Rodriguez - Sílvio
Midfielder's: Vandinho / Hugo Viana (DM) ; Custódio - Vandinho / Hugo Viana
Wingers / Second Strikers Alan - Mossoró
Highway to the Final
You remember Alavés, Shakhtar, CSKA... why not Braga? Or just like the Irish people would say "Brrrrrraagah."
It all started last season, after a great league career, which led Braga to the second place with just a 3 point distance to the champion, Benfica.
This season, started completely different, and besides the great results against Celtic and Sevilla of the Champions League group play-offs, and Braga wasn't the same Braga as last season. There was a lot of contestable results and the fans weren't really pleased with the team performances for the European spot.
Though, the groups phase started.
Arsenal was the first challenge at the Emirates. With an unexperienced team, with Alan and Hugo Viana being the most experienced in the competition, Braga got beaten up by Arsenal, with a clear 6-0.
The next challenge was Shakhtar, the Brazil NT wannabe. The magic of Douglas Costa and the movement of Luiz Adriano made the game done, and Braga got another loss, this time, at home.
The last game of the first round, was Partizan. Mythic name, poor players. Easy win, with a great free-kick by Lima - one of the biggest headaches from the match in Sevilla.
Secound round and it was time to go and play in Serbia.
No doubt some legs shacked with such atmosphere, though, the "Arsenal of Braga" managed to score a great goal by Moisés - captain and leader of the team.
Then, Arsenal came to play in Portugal. Fabregas, who was the best player of the English team, got an injury on the first half. Those were great news for Domingos side.
Defend, defend, defend... and wham! Counter attack, run Matheus, run! 1-0 Braga.
90' minutes were played. Corner for Arsenal, everyone on the attack and the ball goes to Élton on his won half... damn! What a great pass, and Matheus makes his second and one of the most beautiful goals of the competition.
Party all night and there was only a last game. In Donetsk.
Braga gave everything, but at the end, they couldn't score... but, Shakhtar could, on the last 15 minutes and the Champions League dies, even though, Partizan needed to win his match against Arsenal, as well.
Europa League was the destination.
Liverpool. Dinamo Kiev. Benfica.
Those were the new challenges for this big little team. They've all fell and fail. Braga's determination was superior, and so was the support outside the "court," where a city vibrates with every moment lived by the team, where one "uuhhhh" speaks for the disappointment of 176 000 habitants of the city and one big "yeahhh" speaks for a country.
Braga is the name of fight, heart and commitment. The final is just the perfect culmination of a big work, by everyone, either they win it, either they loose it, this is the bigger moment of this 90 year old club.
13/02/2011: Braga 0-2 Porto
12/09/2010: Porto 3-2 Braga
21/02/2010: Porto 5-1 Braga
20/09/2009: Braga 1-0 Porto
The referee is the Spanish Carlos Velasco Carballo.