Momentum with Braga as final looms
Monday, 27 June 2011
"Six wins out of six since qualifying" have given Dito hope as Braga head into the final, where they meet a Leinster & Munster side "under no pressure" according to their manager.
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Ten years after experiencing UEFA Regions' Cup final disappointment, hosts Braga hope to go one better when they meet a Leinster & Munster side heading into the Barcelos fixture "under no pressure".
Braga lost the 2001 showpiece 4-2 on penalties to Czech outfit Central Moravia, but, unlike on that occasion, they come into the final with a 100% record in this edition of Europe's premier amateur competition. Dito, capped 17 times by Portugal at senior level, knows how big an occasion it will be for his Braga players when the week-long tournament concludes in the Cidade de Barcelos from 19.30CET on Tuesday.
"We are here after collecting six wins out of six since qualifying," he said. "We have scored 17 goals in the process, so we will approach the match with a lot of confidence. Although it is a unique opportunity for them, my players are very calm and relaxed. History is just around the corner for them and they know that."
Gerry Smith, whose Leinster & Munster side progressed from Group B with two wins and a draw, is happy to assume the role of underdog. "We're going to enjoy it," he said. "It's a one-off and, as Dito said, there will probably be two different styles on display: continental and British, which we're trying to deviate from.
"We're a very hard-working side and we're in this final under no pressure − the pressure is on the home team, that's a fact. They're here and all the expectation is on them to win the competition."
A Portuguese champion in 1987 with Lisbon giants SL Benfica, Dito has won silverware at the highest level − for his counterpart, reaching the final is a rich reward for over a decade's service at the helm of the Republic of Ireland's amateur side. "I was never privileged to play for my country, Dito has, but it's absolutely fantastic for a small nation like ours," said Smith.
"If you had said this to me a week ago when we arrived I'd have taken both hands off you. We're looking forward to it, these experiences don't come around too often, and for a team to get to any European final is an amazing achievement. I had to pinch myself this morning when I woke up, realising that we're going to compete in the final with a great football nation and an excellent coach."
For Dito the job is only half done, but for Braga to become Portugal's first winners of the competition they must breach a Leinster & Munster defence which has conceded just one goal in six matches in the 2010/11 competition.
"Our first goal was to qualify for the final," added Dito. "All the information we gathered before the tournament pointed to the fact the Irish team were one of the main favourites to be in the final and for once statistics were right. They are here because they deserve it."