Standing at just 1.68m, Leandro Salino is the shortest member of an SC Braga midfield built more on guile than brute strength. Yet the Brazilian and his team-mates will be walking tall when they take the field at the Estádio Municipal on Thursday to dispute a place in the UEFA Europa League final with SL Benfica.
Last season's Portuguese Liga runners-up face the team who beat them to the title buoyed by a formidable European home record. Braga have won six and lost only one of eight ties at the stadium known locally as 'the quarry', conceding just three goals along the way – all in the second half of that solitary defeat, against FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Leandro Salino believes that the support of those locals – 4,000 of whom followed the team south for the first leg of the semi-final – could be a key factor in the team's push for the showpiece Dublin final.
"We have to congratulate all of the fans who came [to Lisbon], who give Braga its heart," said Leandro Salino as he reflected on the 2-1 first leg defeat in the Portuguese capital. "It'll be the same at home. We need their help a lot, and with their support we can reach the final and get what we deserve."
The midfielder, who joined from CD Nacional last summer, admitted that the first leg did not go entirely to plan for Domingos Paciência's men, even if Vandinho's headed away goal could yet prove to be precious. "We're not satisfied," said the 26-year-old. "We know what a positive result a victory is for them, but without doubt our goal has some weight. We're conscious that we'll have a difficult game at home against them, and that we need to score a goal, but we're sure we have everything we need with all our fans behind us."
Meanwhile, Benfica can take comfort in having successfully progressed through previous knockout ties against VfB Stuttgart, Paris Saint-Germain FC and PSV Eindhoven this season - after twice winning the first leg at the Estádio Sport Lisboa e Benfica 2-1 and overcoming the Eredivisie outfit 4-1 on home soil. Fábio Coentrão emphasised that his team-mates were, however, mindful of still having work to do in the tie. "We wanted to win by more," he said. "Maybe we could have won by two goals, without conceding. But the reality is that we won 2-1, and we have a difficult game ahead of us in Braga. We have to rest as well as work, and arrive in Braga ready to achieve our objective, and to win."
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