Portuguese Cup winners Braga have their work cut out to reach the UEFA Europa League round of 16 as they seek to overturn a two-goal deficit against Moldovan champions Sheriff, who will hope to make their first springtime European tie a triumphant one.
• Braga completed a hat-trick of UEFA Europa League group stage qualifications by picking up ten points in Group F and finishing as runners-up to Crvena zvezda. Sheriff, meanwhile, made a sensational start to UEFA Champions League Group D, winning their first two matches, the second of them a momentous 2-1 triumph at Real Madrid. However, they would not claim another victory, finishing third behind Madrid and Inter but five points above Shakhtar Donetsk.
• The first leg in Tiraspol – Sheriff’s first UEFA encounter with Portuguese opposition and Braga’s first against a team from Moldova – resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side courtesy of Sébastien Thill’s 43rd-minute penalty and a second goal eight minutes from time by Adama Traore – his seventh European strike of the campaign.
• Braga’s 2021/22 UEFA Europa League group stage berth, and the club’s 17th European qualification in the last 18 years, was achieved on two fronts – with a fourth-placed finish in the Portuguese Liga and a third Portuguese Cup triumph, which they secured with a 2-0 victory over Benfica in the final. Carlos Carvalhal’s side also reached last season’s UEFA Europa League round of 32, where they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Roma.
• Runners-up to Leicester City in last season’s group stage, they also had to settle for second place this term, a 1-1 home draw against Crvena zvezda on Matchday 6 leaving them in second place in Group F behind the Serbian champions, who had defeated them 2-1 in Belgrade on Matchday 1. Six of Braga’s ten points came at the expense of Ludogorets (1-0 a, 4-2), while they took three off Midtjylland (3-1 h, 2-3 a) to finish one ahead of the Danish side.
• The team from northern Portugal are competing in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase for the seventh time – and fifth in the last seven seasons. Defeated in the round of 32 on each of their last three participations, their best performance came in 2010/11 when they finished as runners-up to local rivals Porto after crossing over mid-season from the UEFA Champions League. They were also quarter-finalists in 2015/16.
• Braga’s record at home in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase is W5 D2 L4, with defeats in each of the last two – 0-1 against Rangers in the 2019/20 round of 32 second leg (2-4 agg) and 0-2 against Roma last term.
• Braga have won five and lost seven of the 12 UEFA competition ties in which they suffered an away defeat in the first leg, most recently suffering elimination against Rangers in the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League round of 32 (2-3 a, 0-1 h). They have failed to qualify on all six occasions when they have lost the first leg by two goals or more, though they have never previously had to overturn a 2-0 scoreline.
• Domestic champions for the 19th time – and sixth in succession – last season, Sheriff’s 2020/21 European campaign ended early when they were beaten on penalties by Dundalk after a 1-1 home draw in a one-off UEFA Europa League third qualifying round tie.
• This term the Moldovan champions came through four UEFA Champions League qualifying ties – against Teuta, Alashkert, Crvena zvezda and, in the play-offs, Dinamo Zagreb (3-0 h, 0-0 a) – to reach the group stage for the first time. The only debutants in 2021/22, they beat Shakhtar 2-0 at home before shocking Madrid in the Bernabéu, but two 1-3 defeats by Inter and a 0-3 home loss against Madrid ended their hopes of further progress before they signed off, as guaranteed third-place finishers, with a 1-1 draw at Shakhtar.
• The only Moldovan side ever to have reached the UEFA Europa League group stage, having done so four times, in 2009/10, 2010/11, 2013/14 and 2017/18, Sheriff are now breaking new ground as the first from the country to play European football in the spring.
• The loss at Inter is Sheriff’s only defeat in seven European away fixtures this season (W3 D3), though they have managed just one win in 12 on the road in the UEFA Europa League proper (D5 L6) – 2-1 at Lokomotiv Moskva on Matchday 4 in 2017/18.
• Including this season’s UEFA Champions League play-off success against Dinamo, Sheriff have won nine of the ten UEFA ties in which they were victorious in the home first leg, the exception against Qarabağ in the 2018/19 UEFA Europa League play-offs (1-0 h, 0-3 a). This is the fourth time they have recorded a 2-0 home win in the first leg.
UEFA Europa League squad changes
In: David Carmo, Dinis Pinto, Bernardo Fontes
Out: Mario González (Tenerife, loan), Chiquinho (Benfica, end loan), Raul Silva (Estoril, loan), Lucas Piazón, Galeno (Porto)
In: Stefanos Evangelou, Basit Abdul Khalid, Charles Petro
Out: Danilo Arboleda (Al Ain), Frank Castañeda (released), Mihai Cioban, Maxim Cojocaru (released), Nichita Corneencov (released), Cristiano (Fluminense), Fernando Costanza (Krylya Sovetov Samara), Dimitrios Kolovos (Kocaelispor)
Links and trivia
• Sheriff skipper Gustavo Dulanto, who missed the first leg, joined from Boavista in February 2021, having made ten appearances for the club in the Portuguese Liga, two of them, both victories, against Braga.
• In the 2018/19 UEFA Europa League third qualifying round Ricardo Horta scored two of Braga’s three goals against a Zorya Luhansk side coached by current Sheriff boss Yuriy Vernydub, but the Portuguese side lost the tie on away goals (1-1 a, 2-2 h).
• This is Sheriff’s 16th European game this season – a club record and the joint most, alongside Dinamo Zagreb, of the 16 teams competing in the UEFA Europa League knockout round play-offs.
• Braga were the only one of the 16 teams who failed to score in the first legs of the UEFA Europa League knockout round play-offs.
• In appearing for Braga in the first leg, Roger Fernandes became, at the age of 16 years and 88 days, the youngest ever UEFA Europa League participant, group stage to final. He lasted only seven minutes, however, coming on in the 79th minute but having to be substituted himself in the 86th.
• Sheriff are one of five reigning national champions in the UEFA Europa League knockout round play-offs, while Braga are one of four current domestic cup winners in the field.
• Braga’s record in one UEFA penalty shoot-out is W1 L0:
5-4 v Udinese, 2012/13 UEFA Champions League play-off
• Sheriff’s record in two penalty shoot-outs in UEFA competition is W1 L1:
6-5 v Dinamo Zagreb, 2010/11 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round
3-5 v Dundalk, 2020/21 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round
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