SC Braga's success over the past two seasons has resulted in a swell of support for the northern club from across Portugal, according to coach Domingos Paciência.
Whether this originated from the Arsenalistas' unsuccessful duel with SL Benfica – against whom they must overturn a 2-1 deficit in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final – for the Liga title last season, Paciência is not quite sure. What he is certain of, however, is that people nationwide have taken the team to their hearts following what has been the best campaign in the Minho side's 96-year history.
"Last season was very important," he told UEFA.com. "I felt, apart from the Braga fans, that a nation was supporting Braga. I don't know if it was because we were [competing] against Benfica, because Benfica are a club which has millions of fans, but I felt Braga united many people."
Though Braga will not replicate their runners-up finish of 12 months ago, they are third with two league games remaining, Paciência feels that support has only been strengthened by Braga's European exploits. "This year that has happened again," he said. "People are happy about what Braga have been doing. At a national level I feel there is great affection for this team, for what it has done."
What Paciência's team have done is reach the semi-finals of a UEFA competition for the first time, having started the season with a debut appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage, accounting for seasoned European campaigners Liverpool FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv en route to the last four.
The campaign, says the former Portugal striker, has been a testing one. "Starting the season very early and then playing in the third qualifying round, the play-offs and then the group stage wasn't just demanding in physical terms, but also psychologically because the players had never participated in the Champions League."
Whatever happens in the second leg at the Estádio Municipal de Braga, whether it is Braga or Benfica who will travel to Dublin for the final on 18 May, Paciência and the supporters can look back on 2010/11 with a huge amount of satisfaction.
"The image is that of a warrior-like team, a team that works, and that also helps the people to remember what football can actually be," added the former FC Porto player. "A team that works can have success − that leaves me with pride in a certain way, for being the leader of this team and for feeling that these fans, in this city, are living through unique moments in their history. It makes me proud that I am the one that is leading this team."
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