Belenenses v Braga, Liga Sagres, February 8, 2010
If you’d asked one hundred people at the beginning of the season which team would become the 2009/10 Portuguese champions, 99% of the answers would have revolved around the established trio of Porto, Sporting or Benfica. And that would have been a fair response as for the past 75 years, the three Portuguese powerhouses have incredibly laid claim to 73 combined championships.
But Braga are shaking things up big-time this season and, currently in second place in the table with the opportunity to close the gap on leaders Benfica to just one point with a win on Monday night, the old order finally appears to have a serious challenger. (Braga are 6/1 to win the league.)
Braga, under the watchful eye of coach Domingos Paciencia, enjoyed a terrific first half of the season in which they beat all three of Porto, Sporting or Benfica, and they showed their taste for continued success last weekend when they beat Sporting 1-nil to effectively rule the Lisbon giants out of the title race this season.
Incredibly, Braga have only conceded six goals all season in 17 league matches, propelling The Archbishops into the position of the stingiest team in all of Europe. However while Braga have struggled to be beaten on the pitch this year, last week the club were on the receiving end of a tough judgment from the league as they were hit with a massive blow that they will have to do without the services of Vandinho, Mossoro and Ney.
All three players have been issued punishments from the Liga Disciplinary Committee for incidents during the halftime fracas in the match between Braga and Benfica, and Vandinho has been punished the most severely as the midfielder has been suspended for the following three months.
Looking to steady the ship in the wake of this news, much of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of former Newcastle flop Hugo Viana (pictured). Viana, on loan from Valencia, has been in mesmerising form this season, chipping in with four goals and featuring in almost every match this season. Elsewhere, strikers Albert Meyong Ze, Paulo Cesar and Alan have been leading the line and they have collectively netted almost half of Braga’s total goal tally. (Under 2.5 goal at 5/8, over at 8/5.)
Braga will be fully confident of another three points against Belenenses, with the visitors looking to avoid the wooden spoon this season. Three points adrift at the foot of the table, Belenenses arrive into the match on a horrific run of just one win in their last 13 matches including three back-to-back defeats in their last three outings.
With just one win all season in the league, making Belenenses the official worst team playing in top flight European football, anything other than a Braga win would be a major shock.
101gg predicts: Belenenses 0 – Braga 2 (13/2)
Full match odds here.