As first-half rampage by the Romanians in the first half was enough to give them a crucial win over their Portuguese visitors, who finished the game with 10 men.Cluj put on a masterful first-half display to defeat Sporting Braga 3-1 at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu in Romania on Tuesday in Group H play in the UEFA Champions League on the strength of a Rui Pedro hat trick.
Both teams headed into this match knowing that a defeat could well spell the end of their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages, and it was the home side that started off the better.
From the opening whistle Paulo Sergio's men took the initiative while the Portuguese visitors struggled to find any rhythm and on virtually their first real attempt on goal the hosts took the lead. Brazilian Rafael Bastos was the orchestrator, as he set up Rui Pedro to break the deadlock after just seven minutes.
After taking the lead Cluj did not rest on its laurels and continued to push forward as Rui Pedro chipped in with his second of the night. Bastos, a former Braga player, again played a key role in the lead up to the goal as Rui Pedro somehow snuck his way in between two Braga defenders to steer the ball home to make 2-0 after just a quarter of an hour of play.
To Braga's credit, this time José Peseiro's side struck back almost immediately. Ruben Micael took control of the ball just outside the 18-yard box and delivered a nicely played through ball that teed up Alan from close range, and the veteran Brazilian made no mistake as he pulled his side back into the contest.
The goal seemed to spark Peseiro's men, as they very nearly made it all square moments later. Again, it was Micael that was causing the problems for the hosts, as he picked out Eder who drifted in between two defenders, but his rather tame effort was easy pickings for Felgueiras in goal who once plied his trade with Braga.
Still trailing, Braga was very much the team in the ascendancy midway through the first half as they seized control of the midfield and were enjoying the lion share of possession. Nevertheless, the Romanians continued to look dangerous whenever they had the ball and they had the last say of the opening period.
It was Rui Pedro again, rounding out his hat trick, after Modou Sougou did all the hard work following a penetrating run down the flank before he perfectly cut the ball back for his teammate, who finished with aplomb to restore his side's two-goal advantage.
There was time for yet more drama before the referee called for the halftime break when Douglao received his marching orders for raising his arm in the face of Camora, who appeared to make the most of the contact.
Reduced to 10 men, Braga struggled to regain control and succumbed to the Romanians, who won for at home for just the second time in eight Champions League matches and are tied with Galatasaray for second place in Group H. As for Braga, the club's European campaign is over, as it can no longer even quailfy for the Europa League after cementing its place in the group cellar with the loss.