Europa League - Falcao heads Porto to Europa glory

Wed, 18 May 21:38:00 2011

Radamel Falcao swooped just before half time to settle the Europa League final in Porto's favour with a 1-0 win over Sporting Braga in Dublin.

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The red-hot striker's brilliant headed goal - his 17th of a record-breaking individual season in the competition - lit up what proved to be a disappointing all-Portuguese final at the Aviva Stadium.

Victory for Porto, who were overwhelming pre-match favourites, meant Andre Villas-Boas became the youngest coach to win the competition at the age of 33 in a remarkable first full campaign in charge of the club.

Having already secured the SuperLiga, going unbeaten and dropping just six points along the way, the young manager will now follow in his mentor Jose Mourinho's footsteps if his side win this weekend's Portuguese Cup final and complete a treble - a feat achieved by the current Real Madrid boss when at Porto in 2003.

Villas-Boas reverted to his strongest line-up having rested several stars for his team's final league match of the season. Helton, Joao Moutinho and Fernando all returned to the side, but out of Porto's big guns it was Hulk who initially caught the eye.

The powerful forward started on the right flank - he was to switch wings throughout - from where he demonstrated his threat after just seven minutes, cutting inside his marker Silvio before flashing a shot just wide of the far post.

Porto as an attacking unit have been sensational in the competition this season, but that early shot across Braga's bows did not manifest into any kind of sustained pressure as a niggly opening period littered with free-kicks failed to catch the imagination.

While they offered little going forward, Braga held their own at the back and with the celebrated menace of Hulk, Silvestre Varela and Falcao largely kept quiet, goalscoring chances were at a premium.

Yet when faced with a striker as predatory as Falcao, opposition defences simply cannot afford to switch off. Braga did at the worst possible time.

Having held Porto's potent strike force for the best part of the first half, a slip in concentration in the 44th minute afforded Falcao far too much space in the box, where he was found by Freddy Guarin's pinpoint cross. The striker did the rest, heading into the top corner despite having to lean backwards to make good contact with the ball.

It could easily have been a knock-out punch, delivered as it was just before the break but Braga, whose European campaign this season has been characterised by gritty performances, dug deep and re-emerged for the second half in determined mood.

Just seconds after the restart, they were gifted a glorious chance to level things up as Fernando was caught in possession by substitute Mossoro who raced clear on goal. The Brazilian went for the bottom left-hand corner with a low drive but Porto keeper Helton - celebrating his 33rd birthday - was equal to it.

It proved to be Braga's best chance of the night and, despite enjoying far more of the ball than in the first half, they were unable to fashion another of real note.

Similarly Porto, for all their attacking panache and creativity throughout the competition, failed to get the neutral's pulse racing and their fans - who outnumbered Braga's three-to-one in the stadium - were made to wait until the 85th minute to see another shot registered at goal, Fernando Belluschi firing wide of the mark from distance.

A tense final few minutes ensued as Braga threw everything - including keeper Artur Moraes at a late free-kick - at their opponents but Porto held firm to clinch the trophy and move one step closer to emulating Mourinho's vintage class of 2003.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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