What: 2011 Europa League final
Who: FC Porto (Portugal) vs SC Braga (Portugal)
When: Wednesday 18th May, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Trophy in Sight

Having beaten Spaniards Villarreal by an aggregate score of 7-4 over two legs in the semi-final, FC Porto have booked another date with destiny by qualifying for their fifth European final, their third in the last two years after the UEFA Cup and Champions League achievements of 2003 and 2004 under Jose Mourinho. Now managed by young rising star Andre Villas-Boas, the Dragons will be hoping to remember their memorable nights of yesteryear.

Having some impressive players on their books such as Hulk, Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao, Porto have looked every inch like one of the competition’s best sides, dispatching the likes of Villarreal, Sevilla and CSKA Moscow along the way. Furthermore, they managed to end their league run unbeaten as they won the Portuguese title, a feat that will be surely hard to replicate in the future, according to Villas-Boas, who remained diplomatic when questioned over the match versus Braga: “Nowadays, ending the championship unbeaten is very difficult, it is a momentous milestone. Concerning the Europa League, anything can happen in what will be a very special game. Braga are hungry to win, but then again, so are we.”

Date with Destiny

While FC Porto need no introduction to the world of honours and silverware, the 2011 Europa League final remain Braga’s most important event to date ever since the club’s establishment in 1915. A Portuguese Cup and a UEFA InterToto trophy remain the Archbishops’ most important silverware gathered and a win over their Portuguese rivals in Dublin would surely be a huge step towards their introduction into the European limelight.

That does not exclude the fact that Braga appeared to be very dangerous this season. Similar to fellow Portuguese side Porto, Braga dispatched the likes of Benfica and last year’s semi-finalists Liverpool. However, their recent defeat to Sporting Lisbon in the league raised doubts over the team’s ability to compete with the newly-crowned champions in Ireland; something coach Domingos Paciencia admitted will be hard should his team fail to up their game: “There is a Europa League match we want to win. To beat FC Porto we need to be stronger than we were today. That is our concern.” Upsetting his former professional employers will be a task and a half for Paciencia. 


Recent form

FC Porto:
Villarreal 3-2 FC Porto (05/05; Europa League)
FC Porto 3-3 Pacos Ferreira (08/05; Liga)
Maritimo 0-2 FC Porto (14/05; Liga)

SC Braga:

Braga 1-0 Benfica (05/05; Europa League)
Academica de Coimbra 0-0 Braga (08/05; Liga)
Braga 0-1 Sporting Lisbon (14/05; Liga)

Key absences

FC Porto: Cristian Sapunaru (doubt)

SC Braga:

Players to watch

Porto – Hulk: The Brazilian forward has been undoubtedly one of his team’s best players in this memorable season, scoring 23 times in the Liga Sagres. Having had his name tied with Europe’s cream of the crop, the FC Porto management moved quickly to tie him to a deal that runs until 2016. Against Braga, Hulk will need to start paying dividends.

SC Braga – Custodio Castro: A product of Sporting Lisbon’s famous youth academy, Custodio failed to reach the level of Nani, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso at the Lions. Still uncapped for his country, the midfielder has been key to all that is good about Braga though, heading the winning goal that saw the side progress at Benfica’s expense in the semi-final second leg.

Match Prediction

A win for Braga would be the perfect Cinderella story, but given current circumstances, this feat appears farfetched, at best. Porto have simply been in superb form of late, and given their current crop of players, they will fight with everything they have for the trophy. Villas-Boas’ side are worthy favourites to win the Europa League and it will take a titanic performance from Braga to stop them.