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Custódio heads Braga into maiden European final

SC Braga 1-0 SL Benfica (agg: 2-2, Braga win on away goals)
Custódio's first-half header sent Braga through to the UEFA Europa League final, where they will face FC Porto, despite late pressure from the visitors.

Custódio heads Braga into maiden European final
Custódio heads Braga into maiden European final ©UEFA.com

SC Braga overcame SL Benfica 1-0 on the night, and on away goals over two legs, to reach the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin.

Domingos Paciência's team progressed to the first all-Portuguese UEFA final – the northern club's debut on such an elevated stage – through a combination of Custódio's first-half header and the away goal scored by captain Vandinho, suspended here along with Benfica's Pablo Aimar, seven days earlier. Having restored parity at 2-2 in the tie, Braga bravely resisted everything Jorge Jesus's side threw at them to book an 18 May meeting with FC Porto.

As in the Liga table, where one place separates them, there was little between the teams here. Lima's cross required the headed intervention of Benfica captain Luisão to keep out Mossoró. Lima himself was on the end of an even better ball from right-back Miguel Garcia but could only poke it over. Benfica's best early sighter was a Carlos Martins free-kick that goalkeeper Artur palmed behind, yet the clue to the first goal came in Braga's quality service from the flanks.

When Hugo Viana's delivery extracted the maximum from a 19th-minute corner won by Albert Meyong's persistence, defensive midfielder Custódio rose highest to head powerfully towards the top-right corner. One-nil to the Arsenalistas. Braga's next threat came disguised as innocuous, Viana's set piece being taken short for Miguel Garcia to scuff a shot centimetres wide.

The danger to Braga was target man Óscar Cardozo and on the half-hour Javi García and Javier Saviola both nearly profited from one of his knock-downs. Artur saved well in each case. Largely, though, centre-backs Paulão and Alberto Rodríguez dealt with the menace of Benfica's first-leg match-winner. Instead, Benfica's closest moment of the first period came when Cardozo went wide and crossed for Saviola to strike against the inside of a post. Fábio Coentrão turned the rebound over.

The tenacious attack led by Coentrão and César Peixoto, and almost finished by Saviola, moments after half-time pointed to the determination of Benfica to reach their first continental final since the 1990 European Champion Clubs' Cup. Artur stretched to keep Nicolás Gaitán's centre from Cardozo. Mossoró's splendid run into the visitors' box had Braga's fans on their feet, before Coentrão had them on tenterhooks until Artur beat Benfica's fleet-footed left-back to a through ball.

However, with tension levels rising inside this picturesque stadium, the suspicion remained that the home crowd's Irish flags were tempting fate. Artur dived full length to deny Gaitán. Luisão nodded the resulting corner just wide. Then Paulão cleared off the line from Benfica substitute Alan Kardec. After Viana and Custódio so nearly made the semi-final victory safe, the referee's final whistle did precisely that.