A trip to Portugal should be very pleasant for Spurs’ fans at this time of year and they will be travelling with high hopes following Spurs’ impressive return to form and taking note of Spurs’ record in Europe this season, unbeaten in six games.
Spurs’ European experience against teams from Portugal includes a meeting with SC Braga in the 1984-85 UEFA Cup. Spurs as Cup holders met Braga in the 1st Round and progressed comfortably, 9-0 on aggregate. They won the 1st leg in Portugal, 3-0, with Mark Falco(2) and Tony Galvin scoring and in the return game Garth Crooks scored a hat-trick with Gary Stevens, Chris Hughton and Mark Falco completing the scoring.
Spurs overall record against Portuguese team is very impressive:
– from four ties they have progressed on the last three occasions, defeating Vitoria Setubal (UEFA Cup in 1972-73), SC Braga (UEFA Cup in 1984-85) and FC Porto (ECWC in 1991-92). The only slip was in the European Cup in 1961-62, the ‘double’ team lost in the semi-final to Benfica, having had goals controversially disallowed in both games.
SC Braga reached this stage by beating Parma 2-0 on aggregate – winning both games by a single goal. In the home game against a very defensive-minded Parma Ze Carlos scored after 81 minutes and in the away leg Parma dominated the game but an 89th minute goal from their Brazilian striker, Diego, ensured qualification even though they had French midfielder Frechaut sent off with 15 minutes remaining. Their goalkeeper Paulo Santos had kept them in the game early on.
They had finished 3rd in their Group stages, behind AZ and Sevilla having lost to both teams.
Although SC Braga are currently 4th in the Portuguese League, they are way behind the leaders – 9 points off third, 14 away from Benfica in second and 18 points behind League leaders, Porto, whom they lost to in their last game. They lost by a solitary goal but missed a penalty and GB on FTL who saw the game described them as a neat passing side but with little end product. In always trying to pass they make mistakes to concede possession and may find difficulty against Spurs more physical approach. He reckoned they looked suspect defensively, especially the right back, although their keeper, Paulo Santos, looked useful.
SC Braga’s last results are not overly inspiring – they have won their last two home League games – 2-1 against Amadora who are 11th in the League, needing a penalty to bring them back into the game and a 90th minute winner from Wender who was then sent off. Their other victory was against bottom club, Aves, and needed an 81st minute strike from Ze Carlos. They lost by one goal to Leiria who are now fifth, two points behind them.
Between their ties against Parma SC Braga changed coach – Jorge Costa is now in charge. He played for Charlton Athletic in 2001-02 season. Apart from playing Spurs, Braga have met English opposition on one other occasion – West Bromwich in UEFA Cup of 1978-79 and lost 3-0 on aggregate, so they haven’t managed to score a goal in games against English opposition.
Spurs team should be on the usual lines, Rocha is ineligible so Gardner and Dawson will retain the central defensive duties, Zokora should return after injury but Jenas may be out after going off against West Ham. Robbie Keane is again available and may start ahead of Defoe. Berbatov has score in his last four European games and is looking to be the first Spurs’ player to score in five successive European games. Let’s hope he can do it.
Not wanting to under-estimate SC Braga but Spurs are very capable of winning in Portugal, although over two legs other results can be looked upon favourably as long as the end result is progression to the next round.
Two additional incentives to beat SC Braga – they play in red shirts with white sleeves and their nickname is Os Arsenalistas (The Arsenalists).
Spurs have an excellent record in Europe this season, they have shown considerable application, skill and awareness of tactics in all of those games and everyone will be looking for a similar performance on Thursday evening to take Tottenham Hotspur one step closer to Glasgow on a spring evening in May.