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Fenerbahce 1 Sporting Braga 0: Topal the hero for hosts

Mehmet Topal netted a late goal to fire Fenerbahce to a vital 1-0 win over Sporting Braga in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 encounter at the Sukru Saracoglu in Istanbul.

The midfielder found the net with a calm left-footed finish just when Braga thought they had done enough to have earned a valuable scoreless draw.

Robin van Persie had previously seen a goal disallowed for offside after being set up by Volkan Sen, while the Dutchman missed two more good chances either side of the break.

Braga had been the better side in the opening 45 minutes and got chances through Koka and Wilson Eduardo, but the home side dominated proceedings after the break and eventually got their goal via Topal.

Fenerbahce’s narrow win leaves the tie wide open, though. Braga are unbeaten in their last 11 home games, a run which includes last weekend’s Primeira Liga win over Porto.

The hosts started the match with attacking intentions and first threatened when Ozan Tufan tried his luck within the opening 60 seconds, but his ambitious shot failed to trouble Braga goalkeeper Matheus. 

Braga then took over the initiative and Josue fired just over the crossbar from 20 yards after a clever one-two with Rafa Silva, before Koka was denied by Volkan Demirel after beating the offside trap. 

The Portuguese side continued to look dangerous but both Eduardo and Marcelo Goiana were wayward with efforts on goal.

Matheus did well to prevent Van Persie from breaking the deadlock in the 38th minute after some great work from Volkan Sen down the left, taking two attempts to keep out the Dutchman.

Koka aimed just wide early in the second half after beating Simon Kjaer to the ball following Silva’s cross from the left.

Van Persie tested Matheus with a low shot from the edge of the box just minutes later, but the former Manchester United man’s attempt lacked the power and accuracy to worry the Braga shot stopper.

The 32-year-old did find the net in the 54th minute, only to see the referee blow his whistle for offside.

Van Persie continued to cause the Portuguese defence all kinds of trouble and he headed only just over from the penalty spot at the hour mark.

Braga almost snatched the lead with 15 minutes left on the clock after Josue cut inside from the right, but Demirel showed his class with a sublime save.

But the visitors’ defence fell asleep as Fener seized the initiative, allowing Topal to burst through midfield before the Turkey international beat Matheus with a low shot.

Thu 10 Mar, 2016
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