Timing, they say, is everything and for SC Braga coach Domingos Paciência the adage was never truer than in the victory against SL Benfica that completed their historic run to the UEFA Europa League final.
Negotiating a Benfica team armed with seniority in Portugal's football ranks and a 2-1 lead from the semi-final first leg, Braga got their spur to success with Custódio's towering header. The midfielder's 19th-minute goal not only put the underdogs ahead on the night – and thanks to their away goal in Lisbon in the tie as well – it was a significant affirmation of their ambition to reach a first European final.
"It was what we needed at that moment," said 42-year-old former FC Porto and Portugal forward Paciência. "It gave the team confidence. The opening goal was always going to change things – to unbalance one team and motivate the other, and that's what happened. It gave us confidence."
Indeed, Custódio's breakthrough was the platform for the ultimate display of fortitude from the northern Portuguese side. Yes, similar spirit and mental strength had upheld them in difficult circumstances against KKS Lech Poznań, Liverpool FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv in the preceding rounds. But against Benfica they were just one slip from having their dreams turn to despair.
"We ended up giving a really intelligent performance," continued the coach, whose two-season reign at the Estádio Municipal ends after the final. "We coped well with the critical moments and cancelled out Benfica so they couldn't reply. That was very important. I felt the team wouldn't concede because they were so concentrated, and that gave us real belief."
With goalkeeper Artur and centre-backs Paulão and Alberto Rodríguez doing the necessary to frustrate Óscar Cardozo and Javier Saviola, Braga finally overcame the team that had pipped them to last season's Liga title.
It was another tense win for a squad that has specialised in testing supporters' nerves since landing in the UEFA Europa League from the UEFA Champions League. The Arsenalistas preserved a 1-0 first-leg advantage by shutting out Liverpool at Anfield. Dynamo were beaten on away goals courtesy of a second-leg clean sheet achieved by ten men in Braga.
"All matches are a great motivation, particularly against great teams," Paciência told UEFA.com. "When you face a Liverpool, a Dynamo Kyiv, even the champions of Poland, Lech, those are big names, and automatically the players gain motivation. I also think the players' capacity for hard work and their daily efforts are reflected in where they are now."
Like a Hollywood action hero tackling situations of ever increasing danger, Braga face their most fearsome opponent yet in Wednesday's Dublin final. André Villas-Boas's Portuguese champions Porto are the competition's top scorers with 22 in eight knockout round games alone, their appetite for goals matched by a thirst for glory.
Paciência, who played for Porto between 1987 and 1997, sized up the challenge, saying: "Porto have always had a very strong team, and right now Porto are a team that could do well in the Champions League. They are a club of the Champions League. In a final, and given how the season has gone, it's natural that Porto are big favourites. But it's a final, it's just one match."
So can Braga, whose only trophy was the 1966 Portuguese Cup, really upset the established order? "With the right inspiration and motivation, many situations can occur in a match that can get you a goal. That is what makes us believe it's possible to win."
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