FC Porto and SC Braga negotiated their way through to the 18 May UEFA Europa League final on a night of tension and drama in Spain and Portugal.
Porto, 5-1 up from the first leg against Villarreal CF, lost 3-2 at El Madrigal. Falcao scored his 16th UEFA Europa League goal of the season, breaking Jürgen Klinsmann's record for goals in a single UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League campaign set in 1995/96.
Braga, meanwhile, eliminated SL Benfica on away goals after a 1-0 home victory, Custódio heading in the decisive effort before the break. The result is the first all-Portuguese final but, as we outline here, one-nation European showpieces are not uncommon.
UEFA.com has reaction from Braga and Villarreal (all times CET).
Friday 00.30, London
Video highlights of the two matches are available here. The blog is now closed.
Thursday 23.55, London
Here a few statistics relating to the finalists before the blog closes.
The fixture in Dublin in 13 days' time will be Porto's fifth European showpiece. They lost their first to Juventus in the 1983/84 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup but are unbeaten since.
Braga's progress has been built on solid defensive foundations at home. The Arsenalistas kept eight clean sheets in nine European matches this term at their Estádio Municipal de Braga, most recently tonight against Benfica.
Despite being knocked out by Porto, Villarreal were the first team to score at least three goals against the Portuguese side in all official matches this season.
Thursday 23.34, Villarreal
André Villas-Boas is relishing the prospect of meeting Braga, who Porto have beaten twice in the Liga this term en route to the title. "I am very proud of my players for achieving this important objective," said the Porto coach. "We resisted the initial Villarreal pressure and now we are into the final with Braga, who eliminated great teams such as Sevilla, Liverpool and Benfica. It is a great challenge for us."
Thursday 23.28, Braga
Domingos Paciência hailed his Braga players for their efforts in reaching the first continental final in the Minho team's 96-year history. "I'm happy for the squad, it's a fantastic group," he said. "They are great professionals and have reason to be proud. It's unique to be in a final."
Thursday 23.25, Braga
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus bemoaned his team's lack of good fortune at the Estádio Municipal de Braga, picking out home keeper Artur for special praise. "We didn't get lucky," he said. "We had several chances and we couldn't manage to score. The Braga goalkeeper was inspired and denied us some chances. We are disappointed."
Jardel, who scored in the first leg, added: "We're very sad. We didn't deserve to go out like this for all that we achieved in the competition until now. Unfortunately we couldn't score."
Thursday 23.22, Braga
Custódio was reluctant to take the credit for sending Braga through. "I'm no hero," said the midfielder. "We all are heroes. Those who played, those who stayed on the bench, those who stayed in the stands, the fans. There are no words to describe how we are feeling. It's fantastic. I want to dedicate this to our families. We will play to win the final, it's our ambition. We are true warriors."
Thursday 20.32, London
The lineups for tonight's second legs are now available. They can be found in the UEFA.com MatchCentre, where you can follow all of the action from Braga and Villarreal. The blog will not be updated during the games but be sure to return at full time for immediate post-match reaction.
Thursday 20.20, Graham Hunter at El Madrigal
Pedro Fernandes is at the Madrigal to support Porto and his replica club shirt already has DUBLIN on the back, where the player name should be. "We have a four-goal advantage, I'm confident'" he tells me. "I think this team might just be as good as the one [José] Mourinho built". In which case Europe, look out!
Thursday 18.36, Santi Solsona, El Madrigal
The atmosphere is building around El Madrigal. Porto fans are beginning to arrive in their blue t-shirts and scarves, while some Villarreal supporters have come early to greet their heroes off the team coach. A Villarreal fan club has laid out 15,000 yellow flags inside the stadium to support the team and inspire what would be a truly amazing comeback.
Thursday 17.19, Carlos Santos in Braga
Braga have planned choreographed displays before the match and at half-time. Red and white flyers will be waved by supporters when the players walk out on to the pitch, while, at the interval, the home fans will put their scarves in the air and serenade the players with a special song, just like they did during the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Thursday 17.05, Patrick Hart in Braga
The front page of the local Correio do Minho newspaper makes no attempt to hide its regional bias: alongside a photo of Braga's coach Domingos Paciência is the headline "Go for it!"; under it, are the words, "Sporting Clube de Braga take on Benfica tonight in a match which many fans are considering the game of the century. With the chance to book their place in the Europa League final in Dublin, Domingos Paciência has praised the many qualities of a team which now stands on the threshold of 'greatness'."
Thursday, 16.56, Santi Solsona, El Madrigal
It's a hot, sunny day here on the Mediterranean and a bright occasion for Villarreal's Spanish international, Marcos Senna, who returns to the squad having been absent since the Yellow Submarine's encounter with SSC Napoli on 17 February, although it seems unlikely that the veteran midfielder will start. As if overturning a 5-1 deficit were not hard enough, Villarreal must also reverse Porto's impressive record on Spanish soil, where the Dragons have not lost since 19 February 2002 (1-0 to Real Madrid).
Thursday 16.35, Graham Hunter in Villarreal
The Porto team bus is parked outside their hotel and it is a gleaming example of modern branding. Luxury inside and, naturally in club colours on the exterior, there is a highly visible slogan on either side of the coach: "This is our destiny," it reads. By the time the Portuguese champions depart for El Madrigal it will all be a good deal more hectic but, just a short while ago, the team was able to go for a gentle stroll in the park just behind the city centre hotel.
Thursday 15.50, Graham Hunter in Villarreal
It is still a little too early on UEFA Europa League semi-final day in Villarreal and nearby Castellon for the fans to be taking to the streets, but let's hope they are not all at home poring over statistics in search of optimism. History makes daunting reading for the crew of the Yellow Submarine. Only three times has a four-goal first-leg deficit ever been overturned.
FC La Chaux-de-Fonds were eliminated by Leixões SC despite winning the first leg 6-2 in the 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round, Queens Park Rangers FC also beat FK Partizan by 6-2 in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup second round but went out after losing the return tie 4-0, while the all-time European maestros Real Madrid CF lost 5-1 at VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup third round before producing the 4-0 scoreline which Villarreal aim to repeat. Another tough omen is that Porto have three wins and two draws from their last five visits to Spain.
Thursday 15.15, Patrick Hart in Braga
Benfica's players and staff are sharing their spa hotel with delegates from the International Conference on the Application of Optics and Photonics. Somehow, and with due respect to the organising University of Minho, I don't think the autograph hunters outside the hotel entrance are here for that particular academic assembly.
Thursday 15.10, Patrick Hart in Braga
The Eagles' futsal division have also been in continental semi-final action this week and let's just say the footballers will want to fare better than their indoor counterparts: the futsal team, reigning European champions, fell 3-0 to Italy's ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 in their UEFA Futsal Cup last-four match in Kazakhstan on 29 April.
Thursday 14.42, Santi Solsona at El Madrigal
Tonight, the stadium is expected to sold out with approximately 20,800 locals giving Villarreal their wholehearted backing for what would be a historic comeback. Porto, however, will not be without their own support as some 1,200 travelling Portuguese have found their way to this eastern Spanish city. A total of 125 media representatives from various parts of the globe will be covering tonight's game at El Madrigal as journalists from Spain, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Romania, Italy, Brazil and the Middle East have been accredited.
Thursday 14.06, Carlos Santos at the Estádio Municipal de Braga
Though the country is gripped by tonight's all Portuguese second leg, it will not be a full house tonight, with the fans expected to number 25,000. Of that crowd between 2,500 and 3,000 will comprise visiting supporters. Benfica will play in their traditional away kit, while Braga players will wear home colours, albeit with red shorts, making this all-Portuguese affair an all-reds versus all-whites contest.
Thursday 13.28, Graham Hunter en route to Villarreal
We neutrals who have enjoyed the fairytale rise to success of the Yellow Submarine, particularly over the last six or seven years, owe a lot to the Villarreal owner Fernando Roig. And the local media are full of his demands for optimism and self belief today. "We have to give the team a gala atmosphere because in football you never give anything up as a lost cause," he says. "If we produce a performance as good for 90 minutes as FC Porto's was for 45 minutes last week then we can win."
The Spanish daily AS continues this theme by filling its pages with Roig's rallying cry. "Our obligation is to give everything," he says. "We have to play 90 minutes and the team has the quality to think that we can turn around the tie. If we and the fans do not believe in ourselves, we will be dead. We need to live a special and magical night."
Thursday 12.32, Patrick Hart in Braga
After the endless talk about a certain other semi-final across the Iberian border, folk here will just be hoping for a classic in the all-Portuguese affair. Braga and Benfica have already met four times this season. The Lisbon club kicked off the series with a 1-0 Liga win in October and doubled that scoreline to knock the Arsenalistas out of the Taça de Portugal in December. Braga raised themselves to down Benfica 2-1 in the return league fixture in March, before the capital outfit replicated the latter result in last week's UEFA Europa League opener ... Never mind best out of five though: next goal the winner would suit Braga – for whom 1-0 will suffice.
Thursday 12.08, Lisbon
Although Porto are well-placed to qualify from their UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal, their 5-1 advantage will not slow them down. A Bola insists that the Dragons have no intention of sitting on their lead. "André Villas-Boas wants his side to fight for the game at El Madrigal and not just defend their comfortable four-goal cushion. This is a demonstration of courage and intelligence because if Porto show the slightest weakness, it will empower Villarreal".
Record, meanwhile, focuses on the historical importance of the occasion. "FC Porto have another opportunity to write their name into European history in gold lettering. The 5-1 win at the Estádio do Dragão has put the André Villas-Boas's team within one-and-a-half paces of Dublin but, as the coach recognises, Porto must be on full alert to avoid any surprises from Villarreal's furious football."
Thursday 11.54, Lisbon
The UEFA Europa League semi-final between Braga and Benfica has caught the imagination in Portugal, where the outcome of this intriguingly poised all Portuguese second-leg tie is awaited. No one dares predict tonight's winner, but newspaper A Bola today focuses on Benfica, who will be in "heaven or hell" at the end of the match.
"Benfica start the game with a small advantage [2-1] in a match that could take the team to heaven," it reads. "If they don't succeed, however, it will surely be hell when they come to weigh up the season that will have ended a distance away from the ambitious objectives that were set out after last season's Portuguese Liga triumph."
Record, which is also Lisbon-based, focuses on how this European match has helped create fresh competition within Portuguese football, stating: "This new rivalry makes every match between the Minho outfit and the Eagles simply explosive, especially when there is a UEFA Europa League place at stake. The fratricidal duel between these two Portuguese sides could not be lived with greater intensity."
Thursday 10.54, Madrid
If Del Bosque has had a tricky week then spare a thought for Villarreal CF coach Juan Carlos Garrido, who must somehow mastermind a four-goal recovery against FC Porto. According to the Madrid-based newspaper AS, the 42-year-old is taking his inspiration from RC Deportivo La Coruña's famous UEFA Champions League comeback against AC Milan.
"To the final, the heroic way," reads the headline. "Garrido motivates his players with videos before matches. Today he will need to do much more than that, but when he dips into the archives, the technician has an easy example to follow: the historic 4-0 victory by which Deportivo La Coruña beat AC Milan [in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League quarter-final]. That comeback was as complicated and as unlikely as the one required now, but it was achieved, and this Porto is not on a par with that AC Milan side, while the Yellow Submarine is by no means inferior to that Galician outfit. Can they do it? Yes they can."
Thursday 10.48, Valencia
Valencia's sports daily Superdeporte is thinking along similar lines, and suggests that an all-out attack including comprising Nilmar, Giuseppe Rossi and Marco Ruben will be deployed. "It is hard to hide the truth," it reads. "Unless there is a major surprise, Villarreal will, for the third time in its history, fall one step short of contesting a European final. Removing the weight of the 5-1 first leg defeat will be complicated, but the tie is not over."
Thursday 10.04, Graham Hunter en route to Villarreal
These have not been the easiest couple of weeks for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. He has repeatedly had to admit worries that ill feeling amongst the Spain internationals during the series of Clásico matches might seep into his international squad, but confirmed that he is ready to attend another tough night, this time at the El Madrigal, where Villarreal trail Porto 5-1. "The fact that the boss will be here is definitely a useful extra incentive for all of us who want to be in his squad," confirmed Villarreal's Santi Cazorla.
Thursday 10.02, Patrick Hart in Braga
Braga's large (we are talking more than 15,000) student population may give the city a youthful energy but these greenhorns will be no use in remembering their local club's only trophy success to date: Braga's Portuguese Cup win of 1966. Nor, for that matter, will they be revisiting Benfica's most recent continental triumph: the Eagles' 1962 European Champion Clubs' Cup victory. Kids, eh?
Nilmar refused to give up hope for Villarreal, echoing Carlos Marchena's comments from after the first leg. As our match backrgound piece to this game shows, three sides have come back from four goals down to win European ties in the past.
In addition to the usual selection of facts on the Braga v Benfica game, we have heard from Braga's Leandro Salino and Hugo Viana as well as coach Domingos Paciência, while Benfica's Fábio Coentrão is itching to make it to a first all-Portuguese UEFA competition final in Dublin on 18 May. Javier Saviola, meanwhile, is looking for a repeat of his success with Sevilla FC in 2006.
Thursday 09.30, London
Excitement is building ahead of kick-off in Villarreal and Braga, but this could be a good time to make final adjustments to your UEFA Europa League Fantasy Football team, with the winner of this season's competition set to drive away with a new SEAT car. You can also test your footballing acumen with our Predictor game.
All times CET.
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