Attendance: 38 176
In our entire European history, there were only two occasions when Spartak, having lost the first away game, then went on to get the right result at home. The first time it was under Konstantin Beskov in 1986, in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup, against the French Toulouse (1:3, 5:1). Our next comeback was orchestrated ten years later, when Georgy Yartsev’s side overcame Croatia Sesvete on aggregate (1:3, 2:0).
However this time we couldn’t stage a comeback. In Portugal we have lost by a single goal in an otherwise even match. This time things didn’t go our way at the end of the first half.
The result of the first game dictated the need for an attacking lineup. That was the road Oleg Kononov went down, fielding the most aggressive starting XI possible under the circumstances.
We were once again without Jordan Larsson and Gus Til, both of whom were on fire their last league match. However neither had the chance to get on the scoresheet against Braga, having represented their previous clubs earlier in the Europa League campaign. They watched the game from the stands.
… We started out in a bright fashion, trying to play a high-tempo match. The visitors did the opposite, calming the game down when on the ball via square passes.
However Braga didn’t take the game lightly. They rotated the team heavily in their last league game, saving their leaders for the encounter in Moscow. This was as clear an indication as possible the visitors prioritised Europa League’s group stage qualification.
The first real moments of danger started to appear midway through the first half. First Dzhikia let fly from a distance, with Matheus on hand to save. Maksimenko demonstrated his reflexes up next with a fine low save.
Spartak created two chances soon after. Ponce found himself in a shooting position after a good exchange between Zobnin and Schurrle — unfortunately the Argentinian’s effort went out for a corner following a deflection. Then Gigot made space for a free header in the six-yard box, but missed.
We were in for a reality check at the end of the half, conceding twice in quick succession. For the first we lost the ball upfield and Braga broke through, with Ricardo Horta producing a fine finish from outside the box. The Portuguese netted a brace six minutes later, the ball finding the net after Maksimenko was wrong-footed by a deflection off Gigot.
At the outset of the first half Schurrle could have pulled one back, however the German sent his effort over. After that the game calmed down for the next 30 minutes or so. We had another opportunity to hurt Braga 12 minutes from time, Eschenko finding Jano inside the box, but the Georgian couldn’t steer his strike past Matheus. He was forced to save from a Gigot header next.
Only a minute from full-time did we score a consolation goal. Umyarov and Ayrton combined to set up Zelimkhan Bakaev, whose close-range finish rippled the net.