Portugal's first two representatives in this week's UEFA Champions League matches, SC Braga and SL Benfica, are enjoying 24 hours more to prepare for facing Galatasaray AŞ and FC Barcelona respectively, with their Portuguese Liga matches having been played on Friday night.
Braga coach José Peseiro will be especially grateful for the extra time before visiting the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi in Istanbul, with his side having been involved in one of their most exacting matches of the season on Friday night in Guimaraes. The Derby do Minho against Vitória SC is one of the most celebrated in Portugal, and Braga had to dig deep to grind out a 2-0 win in this latest edition.
The Arsenalistas will not complain. Their approach is one of great industry, echoing the tradition of the city itself. One of the highlights of northern Portugal, Braga is perhaps most famous for its ornate hilltop church, Bom Jesus do Monte, painstakingly constructed in six stages stretching from the 15th to the 19th century.
Some 9km away, the Estádio Municipal de Braga is a continuation of the same approach. Built for UEFA EURO 2004, it is known locally as A Pedreira – 'the quarry' – with the bulk of the €80m construction cost going on chiselling and extracting the rock to carve out the astonishing arena. When UEFA.com's correspondents enter the stadium below ground level, a glass elevator takes them up five stories to the top of the main stand surrounded by rock face, as if shooting up through the earth's core.
The town's inhabitants are rightly proud of a team still going places despite a number of coaching and personnel changes in recent years. Stars of the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League campaign, such as Matheus, and the same season's run to the UEFA Europa League final (like Artur), are now gone, but the spirit remains.
Since another herculean effort in the play-off win against Udinese Calcio, star striker Lima has packed his bags too, heading south to Benfica. He has been replaced by the towering Éder, scorer of the opening goal in the derby. Neither this latest exit, nor the matchday one loss to CFR Cluj, will dampen the fire. The soul of Braga's team, as with the city itself, carries on.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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