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SC Braga captain Vandinho spoke of his pride after leading the northern Portuguese club into a historic UEFA Europa League semi-final against SL Benfica at the expense of FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Oleh Gusev's own goal at the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium last week proved crucial as Domingos Paciência's side squeezed through on away goals, despite playing over an hour with ten men after Paulo César's dismissal. "I feel very proud of the whole group," Vandinho told UEFA.com. "
Once again we showed what spirit we have, and I think this achievement, and this group, will be celebrated for years to come – deservedly."
The 33-year-old has been with the Arsenalistas since 2004, but admitted that even he had been taken aback by the fans' response in Braga's hour of need. "I've been here for many years and the supporters have always helped us and spurred us on," he added. "I can't really explain it, but it's very emotional and they deserve the congratulations as well."
Goalkeeper Artur, who made a rare but crucial second-half intervention to deny Artem Kravets, was similarly moved. "It's a unique feeling," he said. "Against a strong team like Dynamo, it was hard, but we had the intelligence to cope with under pressure and keep our shape. Even after we lost Paulo César, we kept a very good shape. Everyone showed their quality."
Now a last-four clash with domestic rivals Benfica awaits, with Braga travelling to Lisbon for the first leg on 28 April. Artur dismissed the notion that Jorge Jesus's men would be favourites, having beaten Braga to the Portuguese title last year. "We've played three games against them this season and proved their equals," he said. Indeed, after two narrow defeats, Braga won their most recent meeting last month. "
We want to get the final. We've eliminated some big teams already and we believe we can get there."
What it does mean is that Portugal is guaranteed a presence in the Dublin final on 18 May, with Artur and Vandinho both expressing great pleasure that three of the four UEFA Europa League semi-finalists reside at the top of the Liga. "It's good for Portuguese football to show it has strength in depth," said the keeper. "Portuguese football is [becoming] more competitive."
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