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Champions League qualifying draw: Braga – an unknown quantity?

July 16, 2010

Champions League qualifying opponent S.C. Braga will be something of an unknown quantity to Celtic boss Neil Lennon and much of the Celtic fan base. This is not merely due to the lack of UK coverage of Portuguese football but also the fact that so far this summer they have signed 9 new players, with a number of players departing. Making them even harder to predict is the recent appointment of Fernando Couto as the new manager. Like Lennon, this is Couto’s first managerial job having retired from an illustrious playing career just two years ago.

There is something of a similarity between Celtic’s and Braga’s current situations – two rookie managers with a raft of new signings and no one entirely sure how these two sides will look this coming season.

So what do we know about them?

Last season – under leadership of  now departed Domingos Pacienca – was Braga’s best ever domestically, finishing runners-up to Benfica in the Portuguese Liga Sagres. They placed higher than traditionally bigger clubs Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto and to give this some perspective, it is akin to a non Old Firm SPL side finishing between Celtic and Rangers.

Domingos Pacienca was appointed in the summer of 2009 and this may have been a factor in last season’s showing in Europe. Braga were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Swedish club Elfsborg in the Europa League 3rd Qualifying Round, meaning an early end to their participation in European competition.

Their domestic success was built on a sound defence, conceding the least amount of goals in the league (20, the same as champions Benfica), particularly at home where they were unbeaten. Less impressive is their goalscoring record, scoring 48 compared to Benfica’s 78 but recent seasons and the World Cup have shown that teams who don’t concede often prevail in knockout competition. Something to beware of.

Domingos Pacienca mostly stuck to a 4-4-2 last season, though  occasionally used a 4-2-3-1 for away games and the success had with these two systems suggests that Couto is unlikely to deviate much from his predecessor. According to Gabriele Marcotti, it is the chairman António Salvador who pulls most of the strings at the club and has been the one constant during a series of managerial changes. Salvador takes most of the control in transfer dealings and is likely to keep continuity in the playing style that has served them well over the past few seasons (regular top 6 finishes before last seasons 2nd place).

So, we can make something of a prediction about how our opponents could line up. It could be something approaching this, with them playing 4-4-2 due to the first leg being a home game for them:

Is this how Braga could lineup?

Goalkeeper

Last season’s number one was Eduardo (played for Portugal in World Cup) who has now left for Serie A’s Genoa. Veteran Quim has been drafted in as a replacement.

Right Back

Filipe Oliveira was last season’s first choice but has also left for Serie A, this time to Parma. A converted winger, he provided an attacking option from full-back. His likely replacement is last season’s understudy, Miguel Garcia, a decent replacement but not as strong in an attacking sense.

Left Back

Another change is in store here with last season’s  Evaldo (a star player who played in almost every game) leaving for Sporting Lisbon. This, despite Sporting’s lower league finish, indicating Braga’s standing in Portuguese football. A solid defender and a good attacking full-back, Evaldo will be missed. His replacement is in a different mould, with the bigger, stronger but less skillful or attacking Uwa ‘Elderson’ Echiéjilé  joining from Stade Rennais.

It could also be new another new signing and wonderfully named George Lucas (Brazilian, 26) from Santos. Unknown quantity.

Central Defence

Club captain, the Brazilian Moisés, should start (barring injury) with the younger Alberto Rodriguez (Peruvian) alongside him. Neither are especially tall but both decent in the air. Moisés is slightly taller and more of ‘stopper’ type than Alberto.

Another option is another Brazilian, Paulao.  A tough, uncompromising defender but has mostly featured as a substitute since joining in January.

Also in contention is yet another Brazilian, Leo Fortunato, who has recently joined on loan from Brazilian club Cruzeiro. Tall (6ft2), strong and comfortable in midfield but mostly deployed at centre-back, he is the most likely to challenge Alberto for a place.

Central midfield

They played most of the 2nd half of last season with combinations involving the Argentinian Andres Madrid and the Uruguayan Luis Aguiar. Andres Madrid is a defensive midfielder who does the simple things well. Aguilar is more creative with greater passing range – more of a ‘deep lying playmaker’. A Dinamo Moscow player having signed from Braga last summer (and faced Celtic in the Champions League qualifier last season), the move didn’t work out and he was loaned back in January. He has since returned to Dinamo.

It is difficult to predict Aguilar’s replacement but it could another of the new signings, the diminutive Leandro Salino. Another from Brazil (where else?) he is something of an unknown quantity but given Braga’s preference for two deep central midfielders last season (and most of Europe’s), Salino fits the bill.

Another option is the aforementioned Leo Fortunato.

Left/Right Midfield – The right hand side is likely to be occupied by Alan, a  dangerous Brazilian winger with decent pace and bit of flair. Scored 8 goals last season.

On the left we are most likely to see Paulo Cesar (and yes, he’s another Brazilian) who sometimes features up front or switches sides with Alan. Not as quick or as much of a danger as Alan. Someone who could challenge him is the signing of Portuguese winger, Pedro Barbosa from Porto. Very quick and tricky player.

Attack

The main goal threat is Cameroonian striker Albert Meyong who was the club’s top scorer last season (11 league goals). Big (6ft2), strong and quick he is as comfortable coming deep to receive the ball – linking up with the midfield, creating space for midfield runners – as he is getting in behind defensive lines. Danger man.

His striker partner for a lot of last season was the Brazilian, Matheus. Small, tricky and very quick he sometimes dropped back into ‘the hole’ behind Meyong when Braga shifted to 4-2-3-1.

Another player worth a mention is the Israeli teenager, Eli Zizov. Recently promoted to the first team squad and likened to Leo Messi for his dribbling he may be one to watch out for.

Conclusion

As you can see most of this is speculative but expect Braga to be well organised and hard to breakdown. Hailing from Portugal they will be comfortable in possession but perhaps not as flamboyant as their domestic counterparts. Like ourselves, they’re in a bit of a transitional period which could play to our advantage – though they could say the same about us.

A tough draw but it could have been worse.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Top Tim permalink
    July 16, 2010 8:30 pm

    Nicely researched. Didn’t know they were going through such a lot of changes as well. At least we didn’t get Ajax, with Luis Suarez and the likes…

  2. July 18, 2010 12:21 am

    Sorry gents but Fernando Couto is not the manager of Sporting Cub de Braga. He has been appointed the ‘manager’ ( a word the Portuguese use liberally) of SCBraga SAD, what we would call the sporting or general manager. The ‘manager’ as we know it continues to be Domingos José Paciência Oliveira, or simply ‘Domingos’ as he is known here in Portugal.

    Otherwise an excellent preview.

    Hail hail

    • July 18, 2010 2:12 pm

      Thanks for the info. I thought Domingos had left?

      Is Couto’s role more like a Director of Football then?

  3. July 19, 2010 3:56 am

    Excellent article.. just a few changes.. Vandinho is the Captain but was banned(illegall) for three months in January after an incident during halftime of Braga’s 2-0 home win against Benfica. The ban was officially for “attempted aggression”. Miguel Garcia may not play. Lucas is a right back and not a left back and from what Ive seen is an excellent player. Alan plays on both wings but P Cesar will probably be on te left. Matheus is a super sub and rarely starts games. Lima who came in looks likea quality centre forward and has scored freely in pre season games…

    Whatever happens it will be a great game. Braga are planning a special party in the centre of the city to celebrate their first ever Champions League game. Any supporters travelling to the game would be better advised to stay in Braga and not Porto. Porto is a much bigger city and is a complete rip off when it comes to eating and drinking. Not only will you be surprised and the friendliness of the people in Braga but also the stadium, the cost of everything and especially the football. Im from Dublin and Ive been living here 8 years. The standard of football is pretty high.

    Moises and Rodrigues are the central pairing that nearly went 8 games in Europe two years ago without conceeding a goal until Ronaldinho scored a screamer from outside the box in the 93rd minute away to AC Milan.

    Braga are still looking for a keeper just like Celtic but have two decent players for every other position. Looking forward to a great game.

    Karl

    http://www.snowballjoyrider.wordpress.com PLANET BRAGA

    • July 19, 2010 1:59 pm

      thanks very much for the info. if you want to do a preview of braga your own we can put it up on here, or a link to it. would be nice to have a more comprehensive guide from someone more ‘in the know’.

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