UEFA Europa League semi-finals – Benefica vs. Sporting Braga

The all-Portuguese UEFA Europa League semi-final tie featuring FC Benefica and Sporting Braga is tipped as a rather straightforward affair for the first leg. But is it really?

The bookies have it: Benefica at the significant advantage for the first leg at -190 to win outright while Sporting Braga at the huge disadvantage at +475.

It’s worth noting that as far as the overarching outlook, FC Benefica are third favourites (tipped at +275) to win the competition while Braga are the quintessential underdogs (listed at +600).

So that’s loosely how the bookies see it. How do you see it playing out? For that, we should take a closer look at the semi-final tie between these two Portuguese and the corresponding markets.

Soccer Betting Line:

Benfica -1 -110 -190 2½ O +105 U -135 1½ O -145 U +115 Draw +275

Sporting Braga +1 -120 +475 2½ O +105 U -135 ½ O -115 U -115 Draw +275

Match Time: 03:00 PM Eastern Time (12:00 Pacific Time) Thursday April 28, 2011

Soccer Betting Verdict: As far as domestic action goes, defending titlists Benefica and Sporting Braga are second and third respectively in the Primeira Liga standings, but that proximity isn’t reflected on points where a vast chasm exits between them. On a side note, as far as Benefica winning the domestic title this season goes, two words: fat chance. They are almost twenty points behind pace-setting FC Porto.

Recently these two sides collided in domestic action where Sporting Braga finally snapped a three-game losing streak to Benefica, going back to March 27, 2010, with a 2-1 win.

Benefica advanced into the semis undefeated in the competition; in the quarters, they beat PSV 4-1 at home before drawing 2-2 on the away. PSV was by far their toughest challenge of the competition and by the same token, you could say they’ve had a rather easy draw.

Sporting Braga was made to work hard for their spot in the semis on a 1-1 draw on aggregate against Dynamo Kyiv. They won the tie by virtue of away goals (or rather the one goal in Kiev).

Since opening their campaign with a defeat to Lech in the R32, Braga has gone undefeated with two wins and three draws. More importantly, they’ve navigated a tough path into the semis at the expense of two Champions League quality teams – Liverpool and Dynamo Kyiv.

As far as the first leg goes, I get why Benefica are the huge favourites – they have home advantage to kick off the tie with and they have a significant club head-to-head edge over Braga in Primeira action that stands at 17-11-7, and includes a 5-3-2 mark for the last ten meetings. Clearly, Benefica has the on paper edge. And I’ll add to this, they are “correctly” deemed the hot faves going into this match, ergo the team most likely to advance.

But it’s not always as simple as that. Matches aren’t played on paper and I am afraid that I don’t see it just in that flimsy way. Not crediting Sporting Braga with respectable odds that would reflect their accomplishments in this competition is wrong, in my humble opinion. Beating Liverpool and Dynamo Kiev were two major upsets in this competition . Make no mistake, the confidence alone from those two rounds is HUGE. Add to that a recent win over Benefica in domestic action and tell me that those are not signs of a team growing in confidence, ready to turn the tide in their favour. If not with an outright win in the first leg then at least a draw or a crucial away goal upon which they can build in the second leg.

Soccer Free Picks: Sporting Braga +475 | Under 2 ½ -135