Interview with Tom Kundert –
Shakhtar Donetsk attempt to take a step towards the Europa League semi-finals tomorrow as they travel to Braga. Shakhtar have played Braga before—in the 2010-11 Champions League group stage—and easily dispatched the Portuguese club in both matches (2-0 in Donetsk, and 3-0 in Braga)
Futbolgrad spoke to Tom Kundert from the excellent PortuGoal.net, the definitive Portuguese football site.
Ten Questions on SC Braga
1. Braga are a bit of a surprise in this Europa League season, tell us a bit about their Europa League run so far.
They have enjoyed an outstanding European campaign this season, starting with the group stage where they finished top, ahead of favourites Marseille. The 3-2 home win against the French club in a thrilling contest was the highlight, and the late winner having thrown away a 2-goal lead speaks volumes about the side’s character.
In the knockout stage they rode their luck against Swiss outfit Sion then overcame Fenerbahçe after a superb 4-1 win in the second leg, again showing iron determination. Having lost the first leg in Istanbul and at 1-1 at half time in the second leg Braga needed two goals without reply against a team packed with internationals and expensive stars, but a storming second-half display saw them march into the quarter-finals.
2. Despite Braga being a bit of a surprise they have been here before haven’t they?
Yes, they made the final in 2011, which they narrowly lost to fellow Portuguese side FC Porto in Dublin. Curiously, on that occasion they also met Ukrainian opposition in the quarter-finals, beating Dynamo Kyiv on away goals after a cagey two games had ended 1-1 on aggregate. A portent?
3. Now to their domestic performance. How are they doing in the league?
Braga have enjoyed an outstanding season. They are in the final of the Portuguese Cup and the semi-finals of the Portuguese League Cup. In the league they are 4th behind Portugal’s traditional big three clubs. They have played some great football but will probably feel they should be closer to 3rd-placed Porto. The gap is 11 points, but Braga have been far more impressive than Porto (drawing and beating them in the league) all season.
4. What kind of club are Braga, especially compared to the big clubs from Lisbon and Porto?
The emergence of Braga as Portugal’s 4th “grande” has been one of the stories of Portuguese football over the last 10 years. It has brought added interest and competitiveness to the league. That said, in terms of fan-base, infrastructure and financial clout, Braga (or any other club for that matter) can never truly compete with Portugal’s three biggest clubs: Benfica, Sporting and Porto.
5. Who are Braga’s biggest stars?
Winger Rafa, just 22 years old, is an exceptional talent. He is fast, skilful, inventive and intelligent on the ball and has an eye for goal. He is a certainty to make Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad and could well be a starter in France. There is no doubt he will be sold for a huge price this summer, probably to a major foreign club.
Egyptian forward Hassan is a lethal finisher, while in midfield the combative and skilful Josué, on loan from Porto, has had a big influence since signing in January. Ricardo Ferreira is a solid centre-back, and goalkeeper Matheus is capable of spectacular saves. Finally, winger Pedro Santos, although often starting on the bench, can be a handful for any defence.
6. What kind of football do they play?
What has made Braga so enjoyable to watch this season is the smooth, fast, passing game they play, a trademark of coach Paulo Fonseca, who is surely destined for bigger clubs in his career.
7. Can you tell us a bit about their coach?
After impressing at a series of smaller clubs Paulo Fonseca was appointed FC Porto coach in 2013-14 but it went badly wrong for him there, where he admitted he was not able to deal with the egos of many of Porto’s star players. On reflection, he took up the challenge of managing a major club too soon. He returned to his former club Paços de Ferreira, and oversaw another highly impressive season, earning a move to Braga last summer. Apart from the odd disappointing result in the league, it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job than Fonseca has done this season, with Braga still alive in four competitions, all the time playing an easy-on-the-eye brand of football.
8. Braga have been a bit in the news because of Football Leaks, what has been the reaction to the club having documents leaked?
The same as the reaction of all Portuguese clubs to the Football Leaks revelations: To deny any wrongdoing and/or to ignore the news.
9. Braga’s stadium is famous for its unusual design, what kind of atmosphere can we expect on Thursday?
It’s a fantastic stadium for sure and on European nights and for big domestic clashes there is a great atmosphere. With Braga feeling a Europa League semi-final place is a real possibility, it will definitely be a noisy night on Thursday.
10. Finally, what do you think will be the score?
I must admit I don’t know much about Shakhtar but Braga have been very impressive in almost all of their big matches this season so I don’t expect them to be overawed by the occasion. I think Bramga can come away with a narrow win to set up a nail-biter in Ukraine. Braga 2-1 Shakhtar.