BELGRADE - Champions League debutants Braga
guaranteed themselves more European football this season with a
scrappy 1-0 win at Partizan Belgrade on Wednesday that condemned
the Serbian side to a group-stage exit.
Central defender Moises's superb 36th-minute header ensured
the Portuguese team would finish at least third in Group H which
would give them a ticket into the Europa League after the winter
break. A higher placing would keep them in the Champions League.
"Our win against Partizan has left us in contention for a
berth in the knockout stage and I believe we have every chance
of accomplishing the task," Braga coach Domingos Paciencia told
a news conference.
"We dominated the game in the first half and took advantage
of Partizan's weaknesses and the whole team deserves praise for
a spirited performance."
The result completed Braga's double over the Serbian
champions after the Portuguese side won the reverse fixture 2-0
and they now have six points from four games, three less than
Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Partizan have no points after stretching their winless run
in Europe's premier club competition to 10 matches and will
finish bottom of the group after giving their 30,000 fans
nothing to cheer about on a warm evening.
Partizan started with an adventurous 4-3-3 formation with
Pierre Boya and Ivica Iliev either side of striker Cleo but with
no one to pull the strings in the centre of midfield, the home
side looked bereft of ideas up front.
Braga, who fielded a more conservative 4-5-1 lineup with
Brazilian Matheus as the lone striker, looked much livelier and
their midfielder Luis Aguiar came close on the half hour when
his shot from the edge of the penalty box whizzed over the bar.
With passes going astray and no real pattern to the match,
the usually boisterous home crowd were subdued for much of the
first half and were completely silenced when Moises scored.
Aguiar floated a free-kick into the heart of the penalty box
and Moises rose above his markers to head the ball into the far
corner from 12 metres, with Partizan goalkeeper Vladimir
Stojkovic caught out of position.
Partizan's fans, who held aloft 30,000 black and white
hearts made of paper before kickoff, were in full swing after
the restart but their frenetic support seemed to lift Braga and
not the home side.
Only a reflex save by Stojkovic, who parried a fierce shot
from Matheus, denied the visitors a second in the 56th minute
before Iliev scuffed a weak close-range shot straight at Braga
goalkeeper Felipe at the other end.
Felipe rescued Braga in the closing stages when he blocked
an Almami Moreira effort from a tight angle and fellow
midfielder Radosav Petrovic squandered Partizan's last chance
with a header just over the crossbar.
"This has been a learning experience for us and I hope we
will play better football in the Champions League next season if
we qualify for the group stage again," Partizan coach Aleksandar
"Mistakes at this level are very costly and we made too many
in the first half while we also missed several chances to turn
the match around after the break."
Partizan are at home to Shakhtar in their next match while
Braga entertain Arsenal, having lost their opening match at the
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