The UEFA Champions League adventure continues for 1. FC Union Berlin on Wednesday evening as, under new head coach Nenad Bjelica, and in their fifth match of the group stage, they will face Sporting Braga. Kick off at the Estádio Municipal de Braga is at 21:00.
The lie of the land
Directly after Union’s 1-1 draw against Augsburg last Saturday, defender Robin Gosens set the tone for the match in Portugal when he emphasised: "We want to take something worthwhile with us in Braga in order to make it through the winter in Europe.” Union need at least a draw against Sporting to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Europa League alive. But following their superb draw in Napoli a fortnight ago, a win would see them jump to third place in group D with only a single game left to play, that being when Real Madrid come to the Olympiastadion on 12. December.
SC Braga have been one of the most successful clubs in the country since the turn of the millennium. In addition to winning two cups in 2016 and 2021 and the League Cup twice in 2013 and 2020, the Bracarenses have also made a name for themselves on the European stage and have qualified for UEFA competitions every season since 2004/05. But their only win in this year’s Champions league was against Union, and that required a 94th minute goal from André Castro as they came back from Sheraldo Becker’s brace that had put the hosts 2-0 up.
Things are going better in the domestic league, however, where they have been unbeaten since mid-September, and their attacking power is remarkable. Braga have scored 20 goals in their last six games, first amongst their intimidating attack being the Congolese Simon Banza, who has scored ten times so far, including a hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Portimonense in their tenth game of the season. His strong performances have also caught the attention of Congolese national team coach Sébastien Desabre, who called him up for the “leopards” in October for the friendly match against New Zealand.
The Estádio Municipal de Braga is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular stadiums in Europe. There are no stands behind the goals, an open space overlooking the hills behind one end, and a sheer rock face at the other, into which is built the the scoreboard. More than 80 steel cables span across the pitch to support the grandstand roofs on the long sides. Architect Eduardo Souto de Moura was awarded the prestigious "Prémio-Secil" prize for his design.
For Berlin defender Diogo Leite, Wednesday's match is another return to his old stomping ground; the centre-back was under contract in Braga between 2021 and 2022, wearing the Portuguese side's shirt in 34 competitive matches. During the side’s last meeting here- in the 20222/23 Europa league – he hit the bar with a header. He’ll be hoping to go one better on Wednesday.
Both Sheraldo Becker and Danilho Doekhi are out of contention for the game. The rest of the Champions league squad are, however, fit.
The coaches’ views ahead of the game
“In the Champions League, these are always special games, both for the coach and the players,” said Bjelica during his press conference on Tuesday evening. “We were able to train together for the first time on Monday and have had two days to prepare the team. I expect maximum commitment and concentration from the first to the last-minute tomorrow - because we want remain in Europe over the winter, and that's only possible with a positive result.”
"I'm not making the mistake of thinking that the game is already over,” said his opposite number, Jorge, meanwhile. “We're in the top four in our league and tomorrow will be a crucial game for both teams. They've had a string of negative results, but the draw in Naples and the draw in the last league game can be a sign of improvement."
Around 1,900 Union fans will support their team in Braga, an there are no further tickets for the away block available. Important information about visiting the stadium in Braga can be found here. The match will be broadcast live on DAZN and there will also be an audio stream on rbb24 Inforadio and rbb24. As usual, Union will also provide information about the match via the club's own live ticker as well as in English and Spanish on Twitter.