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Having already improved on reaching last season's quarter-finals, Javi García is confident a "more mature" SL Benfica can hold onto a 2-1 lead at SC Braga and represent Portugal at the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin.
After the Lisbon side saw Jardel's second-half opener cancelled out by Braga captain Vandinho, Óscar Cardozo's spectacular winner gave them a lead to take north into next Thursday's return leg. It may only be slender, but Javi García believes any sort of advantage in this match-up with such familiar domestic rivals could prove crucial.
"They have the advantage of an away goal, so the game there is going to be difficult," said the Spanish midfielder. "But the victory is the most important thing, because we could have easily drawn. It's always important to win since this was our home game."
While rating the balance of the tie as "more or less equal", García was buoyed by Benfica's ability to extricate themselves from a tight spot in front of their own fans. "After Braga scored, we came back and showed that we believe we can reach the final," he said. The former Real Madrid CF player feels the Eagles have learned a lot from last year, when they lost out to Liverpool FC having also won the first leg 2-1 in Lisbon. "We're a lot more mature than last year," he insisted. "We know how to cope with pressure."
Jorge Jesus's side will have to improve their recent form at Braga's spectacular Estádio Municipal; they have lost on their previous two visits. "That's for sure," said Javi García. "
We haven't won there the last few times, but this is going to be completely different. In a European competition, having won at home, we know how to play in the away game."
García and his team-mates look likely to be playing for a place against newly crowned Portuguese champions FC Porto on 18 May, after André Villas-Boas's side defeated Villarreal CF emphatically in their own semi-final. "It's a surprise to see anyone win a semi-final in this competition 5-1, especially against a team like Villarreal," admitted Javi García. "I know them pretty well, and they play good football. But we have to think of our own game in the coming week, and I really hope we can get to the final."
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