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SC Braga have shown themselves to be no respecters of statistics in Europe this season and it is an attitude that will serve them well in Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg.
That is the view of midfielder Hugo Viana as the northern Portuguese side apply themselves to the task of stopping an SL Benfica team who have averaged more than a goal a game on their travels in this competition.
Given Braga's 2-1 defeat in the capital last week, where strikes by Benfica's Jardel and Óscar Cardozo sandwiched a riposte from visiting captain Vandinho, an away goal is the last thing Domingos Paciência's men need at the picturesque Estádio Municipal.
Viana, though, cut a serene figure at the pre-match press conference. "I have been told Benfica always score away goals, but I had heard the same about Dynamo Kyiv and also that Liverpool always score at home," he said. "So tomorrow that is another statistic for us to take care of."
The 28-year-old former Portuguese international may be the best known of the Arsenalista squad outside their home country, yet his team-mates are fast establishing reputations of their own. Braga showed strength and maturity in holding Liverpool FC 0-0 at Anfield following a 1-0 home win in the round of 16. Then they consolidated their away-goal advantage from the 1-1 quarter-final opener against FC Dynamo Kyiv by frustrating the Ukrainian side in a Braga stalemate.
With a defence as firm as the rock face that forms the unique 'quarry' end of the stadium, Viana sounds confident. "We deserve to be in this position," said the ex-Sporting Clube de Portugal, Newcastle United FC and Valencia CF player. "We need to keep our concentration and play as we have at home against the other top teams. We have our fans behind us and we can count on them.
We are treating Benfica as we would any European opponent, but for us certainly this the biggest match of the season."
Should Braga add Benfica to their other home scalps in continental action this term – KKS Lech Poznań and Liverpool in the UEFA Europa League, Celtic FC, Sevilla FC, FK Partizan and Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League – it will mark the latest step in the Minho outfit's development. A first European final appearance would accelerate the momentum brought by last season's second-place Liga finish and the resulting UEFA Champions League debut.
For Viana, a UEFA Cup final loser with Sporting against PFC CSKA Moskva in 2005, the Dublin showpiece could also offer the chance of redemption. "I really lived that final but it didn't end well for us [1-3] and I hope this time we get to the final and get the title. We have to treat the Benfica game as our last match and give it everything we have got. It is maybe the most important match in our club's history."
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