By Fergus O'Shea in La Coruna
The city of La Coruna had been preparing for this night for a while. The blue and white colours of the Galician side were painted everywhere and the flags draping the buildings had given the city a decorative footballing makeover. Cars drove through the quaint city beeping their horns in unison and playing favourite RC Deportivo La Coruña anthems.
Whole city behind them
The whole city was behind their beloved team. The Portuguese fans are not easily outdone though, and all afternoon they arrived by the busload, depositing the hoards of revellers outside the Riazor ground where they pitched camp and let their voices soar.
Nobody doubted that this would be a tight affair and the first half brought no surprises. Played at a frenzied pace, both sides did whatever they could to try to find an opening, but with midfield players such as Porto's Costinha stifling most of Deportivo's creativity, particularly Juan Carlos Valerón, and the home side's defence looking their typical impenetrable self at home, the half was reduced to the teams chasing each other frantically up and down the pitch.
One step away from a place in the final, it was natural that the teams would be nervous and the noise and thundering atmosphere created by the packed stadium would have put not only the recently crowned Portuguese champions on edge, but also seemed to disturb the home side. A whole city had been waiting for their heroes to triumph, and after disposing of Juventus FC, AC Milan and then Real Madrid CF in the league at the weekend, how could Porto stop them on their inevitable trip to the final in Germany?
Sweet dipping cross
The player who really stood out in the first half was the creative midfield player Deco, and so it was fitting that he should shine even more as he discovered more space in the second half. He played a sweet dipping cross in the 46th minute which found the fit-again Derlei at the back post, and he came narrowly close to opening the scoring when his header struck the upright.
The next opportunity also fell to the visitors. The same protagonists were involved, Deco threading a pass through to Derlei, splitting the defence in two, and when it seemed as if the striker had only goalkeeper José Molina to beat, central defender César Martín came to the rescue with an excellent last-ditch tackle.
How Jorge Andrade will rue that petulant kick at his international comrade Deco a fortnight ago, as it was his replacement, César, who committed the all-important foul just inside the box after 58 minutes on, who else but Deco? Although still missing some of his usual sharpness, Derlei did not hesitate in stepping forward and he silenced the home crowd by converting the penalty.
No way through
For all the noise the Deportivo fans can make, suddenly it was the 3,000-strong pack of visitors who could be heard echoing their voices around the stadium. Deportivo tried to muster a comeback – they would have needed to register twice – but the UEFA Cup holders' resolve only strengthened as the minutes rapidly dwindled away. There was no way through for the Galician side.
After the whistle silence fell around the stadium except for the corner concentrated with Porto fans. But then the Deportivo followers showed what they were really made of and, with a magnificent roar, saluted their would-be heroes. Not to be outdone, the visitors took over where the home fans left off and chanted, “Deportivo, Deportivo, Deportivo”. A difficult and tight game, but epitomising the wonderful nature of this tournament were the colourful supporters who played their part beautifully.
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