Braga are the people's choice against Benfica, claims coach

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The Independent Football

Braga's home stadium is known as the Quarry and the least fashionable of Portugal's three Europa League semi-finalists will be trying to dig out another narrow win tonight to reach their first European final.

Braga face a 2-1 first-leg deficit against compatriots Benfica in their semi-final and, provided they can keep a clean sheet for the eighth time in nine games at home in Europe this season, one goal will be enough for a ticket to Dublin for the final on 18 May. The winners of the semi-final tie will almost certainly face the Portuguese champions Porto, who take a 5-1 first-leg win to Spain's Villarreal for the other semi-final tonight.

Since parachuting into the knockout stages of the competition from the Champions League, Braga have beaten Lech Poznan 2-1 on aggregate, Liverpool 1-0 and Dynamo Kiev on away goals.

Their distinctive stadium owes its nickname to the sheer wall of rock which forms one of the four sides to the ground, where Braga have won six out of eight European games this season. Braga have won only one major trophy, the Portuguese Cup, but they finished runners-up in the league last season and their coach, Domingos Paciencia, says their rise has captured the public's imagination, even if they are not the prettiest team to watch.

"People are happy about what Braga have been doing, there is great affection for this team," he said yesterday. "Last season was very important. I felt, apart from the Braga fans, that a nation was supporting Braga... I felt Braga united many people. The image is that of a warrior-like team, a team that works, and also helps the people to remember what football can be.

"A team that works can have success that leaves me with pride in a certain way, for being the leader of this team and for feeling that these fans, in this city, are living through unique moments in their history. It makes me proud that I am the one that is leading this team."

Benfica have suffered a frustrating season domestically, finding themselves outclassed by Porto in the league and also losing out to their great rivals in the cup semi-final. Their coach, Jorge Jesus, said that, even if they reach their first European final since 1990, it will not rescue their season. "It doesn't save the season. What I wanted was for Benfica to be champions again in the league," he said.

Villarreal will be attempting to become only the fourth team to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit in European competition.