Giuseppe Rossi scored the winning goal that puts pressure back on Valencia in third position
|Custodio delights the home fans in the 19th minute with the sought after goal [EPA]|
Underdogs Sporting Braga reached their first ever European final when they edged domestic rivals Benfica 1-0 in the Europa League semifinals on Thursday night and advanced on the away goal rule.
A first-half goal by Custodio Castro gave the Portuguese team the advantage they needed over rivals Benfica, leaving the two-leg semifinal on a 2-2 aggregate.
Custodio, a Portugal defender, rose above the defence in the 19th minute to head in a corner at Braga’s home stadium in Braga.
“We’re heroes, the fans’ heroes,” Custodio said.
“Words can’t describe this joy.”
Braga’s win sets up an all-Portuguese Europa League final against league champions FC Porto in Dublin on May 18.
FC Porto lost 3-2 at Villarreal but advanced on a 7-4 aggregate score.
Captain Vandinho’s goal in the away leg meant Braga went into the game at their Estadio Municipal home needing just one goal to turn the tie around and it duly arrived in the 19th minute.
Static defending allowed Custudio to launch a running jump at Hugo Viana’s outswinging left-wing corner and his bullet header put the hosts ahead on away goals.
Thursday April 28
Benfica 2-1 Braga
FC Porto 5-1 Villarreal
Thursday May 5
Braga 1-0 Benfica
Villarreal 3-2 FC Porto 2
Right-back Silvio came close to a second goal for Braga on the half hour, but his low shot from the edge of the box flashed inches wide of the far post.
Benfica did not threaten until three minutes before the break, as Javier Saviola swept a shot against the right-hand upright from Oscar Cardozo’s low centre before Fabio Coentrao slammed the rebound over the bar.
Benfica’s best chance of the night also fell to Saviola, but he was unable to convert from inches with 10 minutes remaining after Luisao flicked on a corner at the near post.
There was even more drama to come in the 88th minute, when substitute Alan Kardec’s back-post header beat Braga goalkeeper Artur only for Paulao to hack the ball off the line.
Also on Thursday, Porto striker Radamel Falcao scored for the fifth time against Villarreal as his side wrapped up a 7-4 aggregate victory to saunter into the final.
Villarreal won 3-2 on the night, making a storming start in front of their own fans in a brave attempt to overturn a 5-1 first-leg deficit.
Cani netted after a well-worked move in the 17th minute, but against the run of play Hulk levelled with a deflected shot just before the break.
Early in the second half, tournament top scorer Falcao made it 2-1 with his fifth of the semi-final and 16th of the competition while late goals from Joan Capdevila and Giuseppe Rossi, from the penalty spot, gave Villarreal a pyrrhic victory.