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Final reward for tireless Braga's unbreakable spirit

For SC Braga's players, the semi-final victory over SL Benfica was a triumph of the collective work ethic that has elevated Domingos Paciência's side to the role of European contenders.

Final reward for tireless Braga's unbreakable spirit
Final reward for tireless Braga's unbreakable spirit ©UEFA.com

The more pedantic SC Braga supporter may be redefining their side's greatest season after Domingos Paciência's team qualified for their first European final.

Braga's 1-0 victory in Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final return leg earned them an 18 May meeting with Portuguese champions FC Porto in Dublin. Whether that achievement surpasses last season's efforts – when the team secured second-placed Braga's highest-ever points and win totals in the Liga – was hardly taxing Paciência's players afterwards. What it did do, though, was reward the togetherness that had already carried them past KKS Lech Poznań, Liverpool FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv in this UEFA Europa League campaign.

Custódio was one personification of the team ethic, plying the midfield alongside Hugo Viana and later sharing the credit won by his 19th-minute goal. "It is such a joy to have scored the goal that took us through, but this is a team victory because we showed great togetherness," he told UEFA.com. "I only scored; everyone else was just as important – look at Paulão, who cleared one off the line. We are all in it, the entire squad. I think the secret was our quality, our desire and our collective strength."

For Viana, who delivered the corner from which Custódio struck, it was crucial Braga got in front on the night. "We scored the goal, which was the difficult part, then defended well," he explained. "We wanted a second but couldn't quite get it. But it was important we scored first and everything was perfect in our game. It's an unbelievable feeling."

Another Braga hero was big centre-back Paulão, who worked tirelessly to keep Óscar Cardozo – scorer of Benfica's second in their 2-1 first-leg victory – quiet. That he could herald a "dream come true" was due to his late goal-line clearance from Eagles substitute Alan Kardec. "We played really well and once more achieved our goal," he said. "It was tough but we played as a team, with great spirit. It showed how good Braga are."

Mossoró, an important thread in the Arsenalistas' resistant fabric, between deep-lying midfielders and attackers Alan, Lima and Albert Meyong, enjoyed the underdogs' moment of affirmation. "We are delighted," he told UEFA.com. "We have many reasons to celebrate because of everything we've achieved. Only we thought this could happen. That belief has been vital and we fully deserved to go through.

"Nobody talked about Braga but look: we are in the final," he added of the UEFA Champions League group stage drop-outs. "Now we'll work even harder to win the trophy. It's strange to face two Portuguese teams in a row, sometimes it doesn't feel like European football, but it's great for Portugal."

Mossoró, playing because skipper Vandinho was suspended, also underscored the role of Paciência – the 42-year-old coach who could mastermind Braga's first trophy success since the 1966 Portuguese Cup, and only their second overall. "The boss was amazing in how he prepared us for both games and we just did our jobs on the field to reach the final," he said.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of Braga's self-sacrifice came from Alan, the Minho outfit's leading UEFA Europa League marksman "Tonight is the fruit of our labours. We put in a lot of effort and although almost nobody believed in us, we're in the final. I think the main reason we won was the way every player gave their all. The joy we showed on the pitch helped, as did our aggression. We have what it takes to beat Porto. We are chasing a dream and that dream is getting close."

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