Rui Pedro scored a first half hat-trick as Cluj sent 10-man Sporting Braga out of the Champions League with a 3-1win in their Group H match at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Radulescu.
The Portuguese midfielder grabbed his first goal of the game on seven minutes after being put through on goal by Rafael Bastos, coolly slotting past Beto under pressure.
His second followed eight minutes later as Modou Sougou pulled the ball back from the right flank, which allowed for Pedro to send his first-time shot into the bottom-right hand corner.
The visitors then halved the deficit as Ruben Micael was able to play in Braga captain Alan who showed great footwork on the right of the penalty area to get the ball out of his feet and pass the ball through the legs of Mario Felgueiras.
Rui Pedro then grabbed the first ever hat-trick for a Romanian team’s player with another well-taken finish. Sougou again was the provider and was able to find his man from the right. Pedro’s well-timed run created the space for him to slam the ball home.
Douglao was sent off towards the end of the first half for blatantly elbowing Ionut Rada in an off-the-ball incident.
Braga saw a lot of the ball during the second half, despite being at a numerical disadvantage, and had a goal disallowed for offside but were unable to prevent elimination from Group H.
Braga, who knew that defeat would guarantee them bottom place and send them out of Europe altogether, were sluggish from kick-off and looked like conceding on numerous occasions in the opening quarter of an hour.
After just seven minutes the home side were ahead thanks to Pedro’s first of the evening - and his first in European competition. The Portuguese midfielder’s opener came after Bastos produced a delightful back-heeled pass to carve open the Braga defence. Pedro showed great pace to beat the covering defender to the ball, taking one touch into the box and stroking the ball past the onrushing Beto.
The visitors were unable to string a few passes together and struggled to get out of their half, going further behind on the 15-minute mark.
Pedro was again able to take advantage of some lackadaisical defending to notch his second of the night. Sougou showed great determination to battle his way into the box, brushing off a number of challenges, to set up Pedro who sent his fierce shot into the bottom-right hand corner, wrong-footing the Braga custodian.
That goal seemed to spur the visiting side on after an abysmal opening quarter of an hour and they halved the deficit just two minutes later.
The hosts failed to clear their lines on numerous occasions which allowed for Micael to control the ball on the edge of the penalty area, shimmy past his man and send Alan through on goal. With nobody around him, the 33-year-old Braga captain swept the ball through the Cluj goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
The Portuguese outfit then enjoyed a spell of possession and looked dangerous when going forward, particularly when Eder and Alan combined. They were unable to take advantage of the pressure, though, as Pedro claimed an historic hat-trick.
The third goal came after Sougou showed great heart, not giving up on what seemed like a lost cause down the right flank. The winger somehow managed to get to the ball on the byline and cut it back into the path of the onrushing Pedro who slammed the ball home.
The game was effectively over from there and Braga’s night went from bad to worse as Douglao was given his marching order in first-half stoppage time. The Braga defender clashed with Cluj’s Rada after the ball had been headed wide for a goal kick.
Inexplicably, Douglao sent his elbow straight into the face of his opponent right in front of the referee and can have no complaints about being sent off.
The game ebbed and flowed during the second 45 minutes but neither team were able to claim another goal as Braga were sent out of the Champions League with one game remaining.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Rui Pedro – CFR Cluj: The Portuguese midfielder was the stand-out man, grabbing a first-half hat-trick and entering the history books as the first man to score a hat-trick for a Romanian side. It was an all-action performance from the Cluj man and he was deservedly given a standing ovation as he was substituted late into the game.
CLUJ: Felgueiras 6; Pinto 7, Cadu 7, Piccolo 6, Rada 7; Luis Alberto 7, Muresan 6, Sougou 8, Rui Pedro 9, Camora 6; Rafael Bastos 7. Subs: Kapetanos 5, Godemeche 5, Aguirregaray 6
BRAGA: Beto 5; Salino 5, Douglao 2, Coelho 5, Ismaily 5; Ruben Micael 6, Custodio 5, Hugo Viana 6; Alan 7, Amorim 6, Eder 6. Subs: Mossoro 7, Barbosa 4, Ze Luis 6