NICK LEYDEN - Monday, November 21, 2011
Having finally recovered from a groin injury, Gooch was paired with veteran Brazilian Anderson Polga in the center of Sporting's defense in the Estádio José Alvalade and played a strong 90 minutes.
It was the Lions toughest domestic matchup of the season, having avoided championship hopefuls Porto, Benfica and Braga in their first ten league games.
But Sporting's impressive form against Portugal's less renowned teams carried over against Braga, who have entrenched themselves as a perennial contender in recent years.
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that Coach Domingos Paciencia was facing his former employers for the first time since moving to Sporting last spring.
The game began at a fast pace with both teams creating multiple chances within the first few minutes, and there was little question that a goal was coming.
The breakthrough came in the 14th minute when Matias Fernandez burst down the right wing and slid the ball into the corner for leading scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel. The Dutchman then crossed to Diego Capel who stepped around Braga's isolated goalkeeper and slotted home with ease.
Seven minutes later Emiliano Insua doubled the host's advantage almost by accident.
After Ewerton was cautioned for taking down van Wolfswinkel on the right wing in the 21st minute, Matias sizzled the resulting free kick directly at Quim. The former Portuguese international could only parry the Chilean's drive, however, and the rebound deflected off a fortuitously placed Insua into the net.
While Insua's goal would complete the scoring, both teams had numerous chances to add to the score line.
Both teams struck the woodwork in the second half and both had potential penalty claims ignored by Jorge Sousa in a physical game that saw seven yellow cards and one red for Braga's Elderson in the 47th minute.
Onyewu was a steady presence on the Sporting backline throughout the contest and dominated aerially, though the crafty duo of Alan and Lima were able to crack the host's defense several times to no avail.
Now that they are safely into the Round of 16, the Sporting faithful will be excited about their chances to lift the trophy since both Braga and Porto have been eliminated.
The other of Portugal's most historic clubs, Benfica, still remains though.
Gooch and crew will have their first crack at their arch-enemies in their next league game on Saturday 11/26.