Udinese failed to make it out of the Champions League playoffs last season, and many believed they'd have the same problem this time around. After all, once again the zebrette sold off some of their best players, including Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla and Samir Handanovic. The replacements were no one to write home about, or so most observers thought. But Udinese has a way of finding talent, and today they proved they have a chance of making it to the Group Stage, earning a 1-1 draw with Sporting Braga and coming away with a crucial away goal.
But the Portuguese side, who made it through to the first knockout round of the Europa League last season, aren't likely to go down without a fight next week in Udine. The home side dominated for the first thirty minutes, but after Udinese scored, couldn't find a way back into the match until the hour mark, when Rúben Micael came on for Helder Barbosa. After finding the equaliser, Braga bossed the match, but Udinese were able to close them down and keep the match 1-1.
The opening goal, from the visitors, came against the run of play. Just a few minutes before, Douglão stepped over the ball, allowing it to continue to Paulo Vinícius, whose shot forced Zeljko Brkic into a stunning save. On the other end, his compatriot, Dusan Basta, executed his own acrobatics, rising up between two Braga defenders to head in a free kick from Antonio Di Natale.
In the first part of the second half, Braga did well to keep themselves in the match. In the 61st minute, Beto managed a fantastic double save, stopping first Roberto Pereyra and then Toto to keep the home side within one. Minutes later, Ismaily sent in the equaliser, slotting into the opposite corner past an outstretched Brkic.
Udinese were content to let the score stand at 1-1. The Italian side failed to push for another goal, instead bringing on defensive reinforcements. We'll see if Francesco Guidolin's caution pays off in six days time.
Sporting Braga: Beto; Leandro Salino, Douglao, Paulo Vinicius, Ismaily; Custodio, Hugo Viana; Alan (, Mossoro (, Helder Barbosa (Rúben Micael 58); Lima
Udinese: Zeljko Brkic; Mehdi Benatia, Danilo, Maurizio Domizzi; Dušan Basta, Giampiero Pinzi, Willians, Roberto Pereyra (Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu 72), Pablo Armero (Giovanni Pasquale 85); Diego Fabbrini (Maicosuel 72); Antonio Di Natale