Cluj v Braga Preview: Second place up for grabs in Group H
Manchester United may well have sealed their qualification, but for the other three sides, there is still all to play for and this clash could well prove to be decisive
By Alec Fenn
Sepsi,Cadu, Piccolo, Pinto
Sougou, Godemeche, Muresan,Bastos
Salino, Douglao, Coelho, Echiejile
In one of the competition's most competitive groups, both Cluj and Braga have the opportunity of qualifying for the last 16 from Group H with two games remaining.
Manchester United sealed their route to the knockout stages of the Champions League in the last round of matches, but Tuesday night's clash in Romania could go a long way to deciding the eventual composition of the group.
The home side hold the stronger hand heading into the contest as they sit in third place on four points, equal with second-placed Galatasaray, but a point better off than their Portuguese visitors.
Paulo Sergio's side can also boast a mental advantage, having already disposed of Braga in the first match between the two sides back in September, though, they have won just one of their eight home fixtures in the Champions League.
Two goals from Brazil winger Rafael Bastos - who played for Braga back in 2010 - sealed a shock 2-0 victory - their first and only win of the competition to date - and if they can repeat that effort on Tuesday, then, they will be within touching distance of the last 16.
Cluj midfielder Matias Aguirregaray is available after serving a one-match suspension, while Bastos will be suspended if he picks up another booking. Braga, meanwhile, are able to boast a clean bill of health.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Third-placed CFR Cluj have an identical record to second-placed Galatasaray in this season's competition, with one win, a draw and two defeats recorded so far.
- The Romanian club lost their last league fixture 2-0 and sit in sixth position in their national division.
- Paulo Sergio's men emerged victorious from their first meeting with Braga on September 19, winning 2-0 in Portugal.
- Cluj have scored in all of their Champions League games this campaign, including four qualification matches.
- Portuguese forward Eder is Braga's top goalscorer this season with six goals in all competitions - but he is yet to find the back of the net in the Champions League.
- Os Arcebispos' Estadio Municipal de Braga stadium holds 30,286 spectators and is carved into the face of a quarry adjacent to the ground.
- Braga won the Intertoto Cup in 2008 and finished as Europa League runners-up in 2011.
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Top 3 Predictions
CFR Cluj 1-1 Sporting Braga
- 16.96 %
CFR Cluj 1-2 Sporting Braga
- 11.11 %
CFR Cluj 1-0 Sporting Braga
- 10.53 %
|UEFA Champions League (UCL)||Nov 20, 2012||CFR Cluj 3 - Sporting Braga 1|
|UEFA Champions League (UCL)||Sep 19, 2012||Sporting Braga 0 - CFR Cluj 2|
|Feb 21, 2013||CFR Cluj 0 - FC Internazionale 3||EL|
|Feb 14, 2013||FC Internazionale 2 - CFR Cluj 0||EL|
|Dec 5, 2012||Man Utd. 0 - CFR Cluj 1||UCL|
|Nov 20, 2012||CFR Cluj 3 - Sporting Braga 1||UCL|
|Nov 7, 2012||CFR Cluj 1 - Galatasaray 3||UCL|
|20||Uwa Elderson Echiejile||Defender|
|-||Djamal Abdoulaye Mahamat Bindi||Midfielder|
Cluj have scored in every single one of their Champions League games and their first two group stage strikes came courtesy of the Brazil wide man against Braga on Matchday 1. The visitors will be sure to keep a close eye on him, but if he can conjure up some more magic then he may nudge Cluj one step closer to qualification.
The 29-year-old midfielder enjoyed spells at Sporting, Newcastle and Valencia earlier in his career and his creative talents remain intact at the heart of Braga's midfield. His ability to dictate play and persistent threat from set-pieces could cause the hosts problems and may well be key in unlocking the Cluj defence.
Home support could prove decisive in this encounter and with Cluj having already beaten Braga in the first match between the two sides, expect them to edge this one, but not before the Portuguese team put an early spanner in the works.