Draw sends Brugge, Braga through
Club Brugge booked their place in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League with a 1-1 home draw in their final Group H outing tonight with Braga, although the Belgians were far from convincing against the ten-man Portuguese.
Brugge came into the match needing only to avoid defeat to be sure of progressing, and they were given a helping hand when Braga defender Uwa Echiejile picked up a straight red for a foul. The hosts bossed proceedings from that point and the pressure told five minutes after the restart when Bjorn Vleminckx scored.
Braga surprisingly levelled through Ewerton in the second half to set up a tense finale, but Brugge held on to finish top of the pile on 11 points, ahead of Braga thanks to their better head-to-head record.
Both teams went into the encounter on ten points - three ahead of third-placed Birmingham City, who defeated Maribor tonight - but Braga could not be caught due to their superior record against the Blues.
The match started in cagey fashion but the hosts were given a lift after 16 minutes when Echiejile was given his marching orders by referee Aleksandar Stavrev for a last-man challenge on Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe.
The hosts sought to drive home their advantage and went close after 29 minutes when Thomas Meunier fired wide, while three minutes after the break Niki Zimling also flashed an effort just off target.
The opener arrived on 50 minutes after the Braga defence failed to clear their lines from a Lior Rafaelov corner. The ball eventually bobbled to Vleminckx, who drilled home low into the net. Ofoe came close to doubling the hosts' lead in the 59th minute, but saw his drive strike the post.
Brugge's under-worked goalkeeper Vladan Kujovic finally had to be alert to tip Leandro Salino's effort round the post after 64 minutes, but he was helpless to prevent Braga levelling from the resulting corner. Alan's inswinger was initially cleared by the hosts, but when Hugo Viana swung the ball into the box it was Ewerton who reacted fastest to tuck the ball into the bottom left corner.
It was a nervy end for Brugge when Viana and Alan both went close for Braga, but the hosts held firm to ensure both sides would take their place in tomorrow's draw for the knockout stage.