Porto beats Braga 1-0 in Europa League final

FC Porto revived its status as a European power by beating Braga

1-0 Wednesday in an all-Portuguese Europa League final to crown a

near-perfect season with the club’s biggest title in seven

years.

Radamel Falcao provided the winner in the 44th minute, meeting a

perfect cross from the right by Fred Guarin to head into the top

left corner of the net after a largely tentative first half.

”It’s so many emotions, it’s hard to explain,” Falcao said.

”It’s almost like a dream come true. This team is really proud of

itself, we’ve worked really hard.”

The goal was the lone moment of brilliance in a game that

featured little of entertainment value, as the heavily favored

Porto effectively neutralized Braga’s efforts to fight back.

Substitute Mossoro nearly responded just a minute after the

break but had his low shot saved by Helton when free with the

goalkeeper, wasting what proved to be Braga’s best chance for an

equalizer.

It was Portuguese champion Porto’s first European title since

winning the 2004 Champions League under Jose Mourinho and came

after an undefeated domestic league season.

With the victory, Porto coach Andre Villas-Boas became the

youngest coach to win a European title at age 33, and in his first

season in charge of the club. Porto still has a chance to win the

Portuguese Cup as well, and the comparisons between Villas-Boas and

Mourinho – his former mentor – are only likely to grow.

”You can dream about goals, and we dreamed the most about

winning this tournament,” Villas-Boas said. ”I believe we always

felt obliged to win the Europa League. We sort of felt we owed it

to ourselves. … It’s a pity it wasn’t a good spectacle, but

that’s a reality in European finals.”

Braga was playing in its first major European final after

ousting another Portuguese power, Benfica, in the semifinals.

But it couldn’t spring a last surprise as the game developed in

predictable fashion, with Porto by far the more attacking team from

the start while Braga focused on defense and counterattacks.

”We knew pretty well this wasn’t going to be easy,” Braga

coach Domingos Paciencia said. ”I’m sad because this team has been

working together for three years. We went through unique moments.

… My players who are in the dressing room are also a bit

disappointed that we weren’t able to win, but we are still proud of

ourselves.”

Brazilian forward Hulk posed a constant threat with his powerful

runs down both flanks, and nearly opened the scoring when he broke

into the area from the right in the seventh minute and went past

two defenders before sending a shot wide of the far post.

Falcao, meanwhile, was largely anonymous before showing his

poacher’s instinct to break away from his marker to meet Guarin’s

cross and break the deadlock.

”The big secret of this team is that we’re a big family, a

family that gets on well,” Falcao said. ”We’re a very humble

team. … We always play for the good of the entire team, and when

we play like that each player will give his best.”

The goal forced Braga to switch tactics and Paciencia reacted

immediately by sending on Kaka and Mossoro after the break. It

nearly paid off within a couple of minutes when Mossoro took

advantage of a defensive blunder to go one-on-one with Helton, but

the Porto goalkeeper reacted well to save the midfielder’s low hard

shot with his leg.

While Braga tried to show more attacking ambition, it was Porto

that had the best chances for another goal.

Alvaro Pereira had a chance to double the lead in the 71st when

he ran into the area to meet a lofted cross from Hulk, but couldn’t

connect with the ball. Porto substitute Fernando Belluschi tried to

finish off a counterattack in the 86th but his shot from just

outside the area went wide.

In a last desperate attempt, Braga goalkeeper Artur ran up the

field in injury time to meet a free kick into the area but his

header was going wide when it was easily scooped up by Helton.

Villas-Boas will now enter next season with realistic hopes of

equaling Mourinho’s feat of following up the team’s victory in the

2003 UEFA Cup – the predecessor to the Europa League – with the

Champions League title the next year.

”If you think that Porto 2003-2004 was amazing, Porto is back

in a final in 2011, and that is something very, very good and

important,” the coach said.

”The only thing we have to regret today was that the spectacle

wasn’t up to the Portuguese standards. This doesn’t reflect the

standard of both teams in the run-up to the final. … It’s a shame

that both teams today weren’t able to explain themselves in the

fullest.”

Villas-Boas has always downplayed comparisons to Mourinho, and

said he wasn’t the key factor in the club’s success this

season.

”I’m just a gear in a very effective club, with super talents.

That’s the reality,” he said. ”Players are decisive in the game

of football. It’s much more them who give us success rather than us

who give them success.”

Having gone into coaching as a teenager, Villas-Boas also said

he doesn’t expect to emulate figures like Manchester United manager

Alex Ferguson by remaining on the sidelines for several

decades.

”I hope to have a very short career,” he said, adding that he

expects to stay at the top level of the game for only about another

decade.

”It’s very stressful,” he said. ”I have ambition to leave a

mark on the game, and I have an ambition to win much more, don’t

get me wrong. … I am ambitious, and the people around me are

ambitious. But everyone has their own prospects.”