Two Portuguese clubs made it through to the 2011 UEFA Europa League.
FC Porto and more suprisingly Sporting Braga had battled through to attain a place in the Irish capital’s first ever UEFA final. At a distance of only 47.4 km (29.5 miles) little distance separated the cities of Porto and Braga. This made it the smallest ever distance between two opponents in a UEFA competition final.
Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, had been selected to host the final match of the 2011 UEFA Europa League at a meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee on 29 January 2009. Gaining the right to the final was not so much a nod to the efforts of the local Dublin authorities and the FAI but also a pointer to soccer’s now prominant status in the Irish Republic – a nation more previously know for rugby and Gaelic football.
The new 50,000 all-seater Aviva stadium was built on the site of the old Lansdowne Road ground. Demolition work of the older Lansdowne Road had began in late May 2007 while the creation of the new infrastructure was initiated in January 2009. By October of that year the new roof was fully installed but the stadium was not fully completed and officially opened until the 14th May 2010.
Gone however was the ornate homely feel of the previous stadium with its high tiered main stand which the train to Dún Laoghaire ran underneath. The dated concrete structural feel of the older Lansdowne Road was replaced by a modern imposing stadium fit to hold both rugby and football.
Both open end terracing areas are now a thing of the past and its place are newer covered seated stands. The stadium now had a modern bowl shape look that undulates in a wave-like manner so as to avoid blocking light to local housing and surrounds.
Four tiers exist on only three sides of the ground. The northern end of the stadium, due to its proximity to local housing, incorporates only one lower tier of the overall bowl.
In reaching the final Sporting Braga has managed to defeat an incredible ten opponents in a run that saw both Champions League and Europa League football. Amongst those defeated included Sevilla, Celtic, Arsenal, Parizan Belgrade in the Champions League while Liverpool, Dynamo Kiev and the mightly Benfica in a two legged semi-final were swept aside in the Europa League.
The squad was one heavily influenced by Brazilians and reinforced with a smattering of experienced Portuguese players.
Standing in the way of Braga were however the powerful FC Porto led by a then relatively unknown manager the 33 year old Andre Vilas Boas. Porto had also finished the domestic league season an incredible 38 points ahead of Braga. The side was a powerful and lethal especially strong and bolstered up front by the Colombian James Rodriguez, Hulk and the free scoring Radomel Falcao.
On the road to Dublin FC Porto had been free scoring gaining pace as the final neared. This included a 10-3 aggregate win over Spartak Moscow in the QF and a 7-4 defeat over two-legs against the Spanish side Villareal.
In the end the trophy’s destination was decided by the tournament’s top scorer – Radomel Falcao. Prior to the final the Colombian had struck home 16 goals and it was the swarthy South American who scored the only goal of a scrappy Europa League final to give Porto victory.
Braga had resolutely held out until the 44th minute but gave the call away. And when Fredy Guarin crossed for Falcao he planted a superb flying header from 10 yards into the top corner of the net past Moraes.
FC Porto, backed by the majority of those in attendence, were resolute in defence and sharp upfront. Keeping goals a key player for Porto was the Brazilian keeper Helton who also doubled up as the team captain.
It was Helton who managed to keep Braga at bay for the whole 90 minutes saving on two occasions when Braga were in a one-on-one positions.
In the end, one moment of clinical finishing proved enough to give Porto the edge in a game that failed to live up to the pre-match hopes and expectations.
At that time just about everything Villas Boas did turned to magic. After the match at the press conference he spoke about fending off all foreign club interest and any big money offer from England. Instead he made an emotional tribute to Bobby Robson the legendary FC Porto manager.
It was only when Villas Boas adventured to Chelsea that his stock was doubted. At Stamford Bridge a still very young manager encountered the big egos of John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard a dynamic that led to his sacking. But in winning the 2011 UEFA tournament he had followed in the footsteps of the José Mourinho era winning the Europa League trophy just as Mourinho has done in 2003 against Celtic.
For Braga, despite defeat, the adventure to Dublin had been a fantastic journey. Their then manager Domingos Paciência spoke of his disappointment but pride post match paying tribute to his players but also to a FC Porto side who had that season been all conquering both domestically and in Europe.
FT: FC Porto 1-0 Sporting Clube de Braga
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
FC Porto: Helton; Pereira, Sapunaru, Rolando, Otamendi; Moutinho, Guarin, Fernando; Varela, Hulk, Falcao
Sporting Braga: Guilherme, Garcia, Paulao, Rodriguez, Silvio; Viana, Custodio, Vandinho; Alan, Cesar, Lima
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo