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Braga urged to seize moment and see off Benfica

For SC Braga's Domingos Paciência it is no longer enough to be on the big boys' shoulders – the time has come to overtake them, starting against SL Benfica in the semi-final decider.

Domingos Paciência ponders an answer during the pre-match press conference
Domingos Paciência ponders an answer during the pre-match press conference ©Getty Images

Domingos Paciência calls it the biggest match in SC Braga's history and it is a measure of the northern Portuguese side's development that the coach will only be satisfied if they win it.

Never mind that Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg against SL Benfica marks their 18th game in European football this campaign – a club record – or that they are competing as an equal with traditional heavyweights Benfica and FC Porto to make it a first-ever all-Portuguese UEFA final. Now is the time for the Guerreiros do Minho (Minho warriors) to be winners. "We cannot be happy until we are winning things," Paciência said. "We have shown great heart to get this far, but we believe we can reach the final."

The 42-year-old, who in his debut season last term guided Braga to their highest Liga placing of second, also had no hesitation in labelling Benfica's visit as the most important date in the Arsenalista timeline. The difference from last week's 2-1 opening-leg loss in Lisbon will be the absence of first-night nerves and the presence of a home crowd that has helped Paciência's team to six victories and a draw in eight 2010/11 European home matches.

Hence the trainer's confidence: "There will be no stress and we won't make the same mistakes. It will be a completely different dynamic from a league game and the first-leg result gives us real hope in front of our fans."

The former FC Porto and Portugal forward has no worries about the suspension of defensive midfielder Vandinho – Leandro Salino deputised well at Liverpool FC in March – or the threat of a final ban hanging over Custódio, Miguel Garcia and Alberto Rodríguez. Getting to Dublin, at this unprecedented moment for Braga, is all that matters.

"This will be a very intense match and we are ready," he continued. "I am very proud of this squad. We have a brilliant dressing room, great professionals who have been through a lot together, and for a team outside Portugal's big three [Benfica, Porto and Sporting Clube de Portugal] it is great to be in this position."

Braga's sole trophy, the 1966 Taça de Portugal, weighs little against the achievements of two-time European champions Benfica. However, the gap in playing quality is not so huge according to Eagles coach Jorge Jesus. He reckons "playing in Braga is as difficult as playing at Porto or Sporting" and makes the hosts – Benfica's main title rivals last year – part of a new four-team cartel at the Liga summit. His job of fending them off on Thursday is complicated by the ban served by Pablo Aimar, although one man confirmed to play is under-pressure goalkeeper Roberto.

Whatever the personnel, Jesus expects a similar contest to last Thursday, when Benfica took the offensive initiative whereas Braga defended and counterattacked with equal assurance. "We could not be more motivated," added a manager whose players will not sit on their slender advantage as they chase a first European honour in 49 years. "Our best qualities are in attack so we will go for goal. I think Braga will be very well-organised at the back and will try to hit us on the break."