Porto favored in all-Portuguese Europa League final

Porto favored in all-Portuguese Europa League final

Published May. 16, 2011 2:18 p.m. ET

The giant-killing feats of Braga will be put to the test for the final time this season when the team faces Portuguese rival FC Porto on Wednesday in the Europa League final.

Braga, which is only 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Porto, has already beaten Liverpool and Benfica after having earlier defeated Arsenal in the Champions League. Braga also beat Celtic and Benfica in qualifying for European football's top club competition.

Porto is in formidable form and pursuing a haul of four trophies this season. The club has already won the league title and Portuguese Supercup and reached next week's Portuguese Cup final.

The match in Dublin is a career high for the two coaches - Porto's 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas, a former Jose Mourinho assistant, is in his debut season, while former Porto striker Domingos Paciencia has set 19 club records for Braga over the past two years.


''It'll be hard to win the Europa League. We're confident but anything can happen,'' Villas-Boas said. ''Braga is a quality team and has a winning spirit.''

The 42-year-old Paciencia is hoping Braga's underdog status will help the team over the last hurdle.

''Nobody expected us to get to the final and that has helped us,'' Paciencia said. ''We've shown we can beat anyone.''

Porto's solid defense and sharp attack have brought 13 victories in 16 Europa League matches, scoring 43 goals and winning all away games.

The team also boasts a European pedigree that overshadows Braga's modest record. Porto was European champion for the first time in 1987, and captured the European Supercup and the Intercontinental Cup the following year.

Under Mourinho, Porto won the UEFA Cup in 2003 and Champions League in 2004.

This season, its South American duo of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao and Brazilian forward Hulk have shown enviable form.

Falcao is the Europa League's top scorer with 17 goals, surpassing Juergen Klinsmann's 15-year record of 15 in one season when the tournament was known as the UEFA Cup. Hulk, meanwhile, was the top scorer in the Portuguese league with 23 goals.

Defender Jorge Fucile and midfielder Cristiano Rodriguez are unavailable with long-term injuries, but otherwise Porto is at full strength.

Villas-Boas has to decide whether Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi or Maicon of Brazil will partner Rolando in the central defense.

Porto beat Braga home and away in the Portuguese league this season but is mindful of its opponent's resilience and flair - half of Braga's 24-man squad is Brazilian, including strike pair Alan and Lima.

Braga finished runner-up in 2009-10 ahead of Porto, making its debut appearance in the Champions League this season before going out in the group stage.

The team stumbled last weekend, however, losing 1-0 at home to Sporting Lisbon to surrender third place to its rival on the final day of the season.

Defenders Rodriguez and Miguel Garcia and striker Paulo Cesar are in doubt for the final due to injury.

Paciencia, who is expected to become Sporting coach next season, says the unprecedented all-Portuguese final won't disappoint football fans.

''We've got the best coaches in the world, the best players, and this is one more sign that we're not as far behind as we were a few years ago. We'll show the world the quality of Portuguese football,'' Paciencia said.