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Cardozo tips all-Portuguese tie Benfica's way

SL Benfica 2-1 SC Braga
All the goals came in an eventful nine-minute spell early in the second half, Óscar Cardozo giving Benfica the edge with an exquisite free-kick.

Cardozo tips all-Portuguese tie Benfica's way
Cardozo tips all-Portuguese tie Benfica's way ©UEFA.com

SC Braga's miserable run at the home of SL Benfica continued after a 2-1 defeat in an intense UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg between the Portuguese rivals.

Second-half goals from central defender Jardel and striker Óscar Cardozo preserved the Eagles' record of having lost just once at home to the Minho side in their history. Yet the goal by captain Vandinho which briefly restored parity gives Domingos Paciência's team hope of staging a comeback when the Lisbon outfit arrive at the Estádio Municipal for next Thursday's second leg.

In a surprisingly open beginning to a tie between two sides who know each other so well, Braga started nervously. A mix-up straight from kick-off gave Javier Saviola a sight of goal before Paulão swept clear, though it was Benfica's turn to sweat in the third minute as Sílvio arrowed a sweet shot narrowly wide from distance.

Openings began to dry up as Braga pressed more effectively, though Saviola forced Artur to parry his 21st-minute volley. The vision of Pablo Aimar − who will sit out the return after a second-half booking − almost unlocked the door ten minutes later, but when the Argentinian's precision pass cut open the visitors' defence, Cardozo lifted the ball over.

Cardozo was centimetres away from giving Benfica the lead on the cusp of the break, collecting Saviola's delightful chipped pass and shrugging off Paulão's challenge, but his side-foot finish bounced back off a post. Benfica's luck turned in the 50th minute, though, when Maxi Pereira crossed from the right, Cardozo struck the upright with a header and Jardel poked in the rebound.

Yet the Arsenalistas, who have surprised ever since setting off on their European adventure last July, hit back within three minutes. Hugo Viana's free-kick was flicked in via the head of Vandinho, sending the 4,000 travelling fans from the north into raptures. It was the Braga skipper's first goal on what was his 44th appearance in UEFA competition, and will soften the blow of missing the second leg through suspension after he received a yellow card in the first period.

Cardozo was not finished, and as the hour approached he curled a sumptuous free-kick into Artur's top left-hand corner from 25 metres. As the game entered its final quarter, Lima forced Roberto to scramble his low shot away, but Jorge Jesus' men closed the game out to ensure themselves of the upper hand.