Custodio header nails Benfica

Custodio header nails Benfica

Midfielders winner powers unfancied Braga to final against Porto on May 18

Braga’s Custodio (second from right) heads his side’s winner against Benfica during their Europa League semifinal clash on Thursday. AP

Outsiders Braga beat their more illustrious Portuguese compatriots on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw in the semifinal.

Braga will travel to Dublin for their debut European final on May 18 to face Porto, who swept past Villarreal 7-4 on aggregate thanks to their 5-1 triumph in last week's first leg.
Hosts Braga started sharply at their distinctive stadium, where a sheer wall of rock forms one of the four sides, and went ahead on 19 minutes when Custodio gave keeper Roberto no chance by towering above the defence to score after a corner.

"I am not the hero, we are a group of heroes. There are no words, there is an immense joy in the air here," Custodio said, as television images showed hundreds of Braga fans celebrating in the centre of the northern city.

Pressing hard, Braga gave Benfica scant room to deploy their flowing game, but the visitors came close to levelling the match when Argentine forward Javier Saviola sent a scuffed shot against the post five minutes before the break.

Benfica continued to struggle and their first chance in the second half came on the hour mark when substitute winger Franco Jara sent a dipping shot wide from the edge of the box. They then missed two chances in the 79th minute when Nicolas Gaitan forced keeper Artur to touch away a fierce shot and Luisao sent a header wide from the ensuing corner with Saviola arriving seconds too late.

Braga responded with two chances of their own in the 84th minute, Custodio and Hugo Viana both forcing Robert into reflex saves with powerful drives as they held on to book a spot in the final.

Porto striker Radamel Falcao scored for the fifth time against Villarreal as his side wrapped up a comfortable victory to saunter into the final. Villarreal won 3-2 on the night, making a storming start in front of their own fans in a brave attempt to overturn a 5-1 first-leg deficit.

Cani netted after a well-worked move in the 17th minute, but against the run of play Hulk levelled with a deflected shot just before the break. Early in the second half, tournament top scorer Falcao made it 2-1 with his fifth of the semifinal and 16th of the competition while late goals from Joan Capdevila and Giuseppe Rossi, from the penalty spot, gave Villarreal a pyrrhic victory. "It's a dream," Colombian Falcao said. "When I came to Europe I dreamed of doing big things and Porto is a top-quality team. I knew we could achieve this type of feat. We've taken a big step but now we have to take the final one, the game in Dublin."

Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido was not giving up and lined up with three strikers at the Madrigal and they created a flurry of chances in a frantic opening period. A trademark quick-passing move led to Marco Ruben crossing low for Cani to slide in and open the scoring but the second goal refused to arrive and Porto started to threaten on the break.

Hulk burst down the middle of the pitch in the 40th minute, shrugging off the attentions of Javier Matilla, and his fierce drive deflected off Mateo Musacchio, wrong-footing Diego Lopez, and bounced into the net. The equaliser silenced the rowdy home crowd which was further subdued three minutes after the re-start when Falcao collected Fredy Guarin's cross and beat Lopez from close range.

Capdevila volleyed in an equaliser at the back post in the 75th minute and Rossi converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to go.