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Preview: Red Star Belgrade vs. Braga - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Red Star Belgrade vs. Braga - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Red Star Belgrade and Braga, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

Red Star Belgrade and Braga will kick off their Europa League group campaigns on Thursday, when they square off in Serbia.

The hosts came through qualification to reach the group stage, while their visitors earned automatic progression after finishing fourth in the Portuguese top flight and winning the Taca de Portugal last season.

Match preview

After winning the Serbian top flight without suffering a defeat last season, Red Star earned entry into the second round of Champions League Qualifying, and they progressed with a 6-2 thrashing of Kairat over two legs.

They then met Moldovan champions Sheriff in the third round and narrowly missed out as they fell to a 1-0 away defeat after drawing 1-1 in the home leg.

That saw the Belgrade outfit drop into the Europa League playoff round, and Milan Pavkov, Aleksandar Katai, El Fardou Ben and Mirko Ivanic got on the scoresheet in a dominant 4-0 home win, before Dejan Stankovic's side completed the job with a 2-1 victory in the away leg.

They now kick off the group campaign on the back of a dominant 3-0 win over Proleter Novi Sad at the weekend, as Sekou Sanogo got on the scoresheet before Katai hit a brace.

Having battled to reach this point, The Star will be desperate to kick the group campaign off with a victory, but they face a tough test against the Portuguese outfit.

Braga arrive in Serbia having achieved direct progression into this year's group stage, after finishing comfortably in fourth place in the Primeira Liga last season, despite occupying a spot in the top three for large portions.

Carlos Carvalhal's men also secured a piece of silverware, as they defeated giants Benfica 2-0 in the Taca de Portugal final in May, with Lucas Piazon and Ricardo Horta getting on the scoresheet.

They return to the Europa League after a somewhat disappointing showing last time around, despite cruising through the group stage with 13 points in last year's competition.

Os Arcebispos met Italian giants AC Milan in the round of 32, and were handed a 5-1 thrashing over two legs to make an early exit from the competition.

Despite an opening 2-0 away win over Maritimo, Carvalhal's men have started the domestic season in relatively disappointing fashion, now sitting on eight points from their first five outings, having most recently been held to draws by Vitoria de Guimaraes and Pacos de Ferreira.

Braga now head into the new continental campaign with high hopes, and will be keen to start with what would be an impressive victory on their travels.

Red Star Belgrade Europa League form:
  • W
  • W

Red Star Belgrade form (all competitions):
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Braga form (all competitions):
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • D

Team News

Red Star Belgrade are expected to stick with a similar side to the one that thrashed CFR Cluj in the playoff round, with Sekou Sanogo, Mirko Ivanic and Guelor Kanga forming a strong midfield unit.

Aleksandar Dragovic and Milos Degenek will continue to partner up at the heart of a back four, shielding Milan Borjan between the sticks.

Milan Pavkov is expected to lead the line, with the support of dangerous wingers Aleksandar Katai and El Fardou Ben.

Braga will remain without centre-back David Carmo, while midfielder Andre Castro and defender Nuno Sequeira are both doubts.

As they have continued to struggle going forward, Carvalhal has rotated his attacking options, with the likes of Mario Gonzalez, Abel Ruiz, Lucas Piazon, Ricardo Horta and Chiquinho all battling for spots but failing to cement themselves in the starting XI.

Andre Horta and Ali Musrati should again form a solid midfield partnership, while Fabiano and Galeno may be tasked with operating in wing-back roles.

Red Star Belgrade possible starting lineup:
Borjan; Gobeljic, Dragovic, Degenek, Rodic; Kanga, Sanogo, Ivanic; Katai, Pavkov, Ben

Braga possible starting lineup:
Matheus; Tormena, Oliveira, Leite; Fabiano, A Horta, Musrati, Galeno; R Horta, Gonzalez, Piazon

We say: Red Star Belgrade 2-0 Braga

While Braga may tend to fancy themselves in this group, they do not come into Thursday's clash in inspiring form, and could be handed a defeat.

Os Arcebispos have struggled to trouble teams going forward, while their hosts will look to create a hostile atmosphere, and we see the Serbian champions getting past their visitors in relatively dominant fashion.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a double chance bet on a home win or an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home/Away:data

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