Beşiktaş, or the Black Eagles, probably has one foot in the last 16 after defeating Portuguese side SC Braga 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg at Estadio Municipal de Braga (Braga Municipal Stadium) on Tuesday.
The Eagles have not won in their last four domestic Super League matches -- three defeats and a draw -- but Tuesday’s win was their fourth in a row in the Europa League.
The Beşiktaş winning streak started in the group stage with the 1-0 home victory over Ukraine’s Dinamo Kiev, followed by a 3-2 away victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv, a 3-1 triumph at home over English Premier League’s Stoke City and then Tuesday’s resounding victory over Braga.
However, what made Tuesday’s win all the more interesting was that the constellation of Portuguese stars at Beşiktaş led the onslaught against Portuguese Primera Liga side Braga, which is also the land of coach Carvalhal’s birth. Carvalhal also began his professional career at Braga and later coached the team three times on different occasions.
Three Portuguese in first XI
Carvalhal started with three compatriots -- playmaker Ricardo Quaresma, attacking midfielder Manuel Fernandes and winger Simao Sabrosa -- and benched striker Hugo Almeida, who has just recovered from injury.
Almeida was later brought in to replace injury-prone Quaresma, who showed serious signs of match unfitness, in the 67th minute. Quaresma, apparently in protest, walked straight to the dressing room instead of the bench after being substituted.
There’s always the luck factor in football, and the Eagles really got a boost in the 29th minute when Braga was reduced to 10 men after Portugal junior international lefty Helder Barbosa was sent off for a second bookable defense.
Braga barely matched Beşiktaş head to head and shoulder to shoulder when it had 11 men on the field. And playing with a man less, the Portuguese side had no answers whatsoever against the unending Beşiktaş attacks.
The Eagles were rewarded for their hard work in the 37th when Czech defender Tomas Sivok headed home a corner taken by Fernandez. And Sivok -- wittingly or unwittingly -- has gone into the record books for scoring Beşiktaş’s 200th goal in Europe. The second goal in the 58th was an all-Portuguese affair with man-of-the match Fernandes providing the assist for Simao to double for the Black Eagles.
Braga, the UEFA Europa League losing finalist last season, had lost just once in eight European games this season -- three wins and four draws -- prior to Tuesday; now it has lost two.
Card-happy Dutch referee
It wasn’t a bad tempered match and Barbosa was given his marching orders for diving, not for a vicious foul. And so it is extremely hard to understand why referee Kevin Blom dished out yellow cards like confetti against Beşiktaş players, booking five of them -- defenders Egemen Korkmaz (26th), Veli Kavlak (40th) and İbrahim Toraman (49th); Simao (57th); and Almeida (68th).
All’s well that ends well. Beşiktaş won at Braga and so the refereeing sins of the 38-year-old Dutchman have been forgiven.
Carvalhal, however, was very careful not to gloat despite the victory over his home team in the first leg. “We won and are mighty happy,” the Portuguese coach said.
“But we shouldn’t forget that we still have another 90 minutes to play for [apparently referring to the return leg in İstanbul next Thursday]. We are taking the second leg very seriously because Braga is a very strong team,” he noted.
“I am not superstitious and so you can only succeed through hard work and devotion [for there is no shortcut to success],” he added. Greek side Olympiakos also took a step toward the round of 16 by beating Rubin Kazan 1-0 away, after substitute goalkeeper Roy Carroll came on to save a penalty. David Fuster put the visiting side ahead in the 71st minute with a rising shot after the Rubin defense failed to clear a corner.
The Russians looked set to equalize two minutes later, however, when goalkeeper Balazs Megyeri was sent off for a foul on Turkish midfielder Gökdeniz Karadeniz. But the host failed to convert the resultant spot kick.