By Jon Fisher
It is the sign of a great player that when challenged he can produce the goods.
Real Madrid CF's Luis Figo arrived in FC Porto on Wednesday night with a glittering CV but with many suggesting he is not the player he once was. On the opposing side was a man who is likely to take over his mantle as chief creator for the Portuguese national side when Figo decides to hang up his boots.
Bag of tricks
Deco, the Brazilian-born playmaker who now holds a Portuguese passport, is the stereotypical South American midfield player. He possesses a bag of tricks, has a tremendous work ethic and knows his way to goal.
Sparkling in the rain
But on the night, he was simply overshadowed as Figo sparkled in the rain. The former FC Barcelona player was a constant threat to the Porto defence with his foraging runs down the right flank and his intelligent use of the ball on the counterattack.
Although Figo comprehensively won their personal duel as Madrid ran out 3-1 winners, it was Deco who made the initial impact. It was his whipped free-kick which Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas could only parry into the path of Costinha who made no mistake with a clinical header as the hosts went ahead after seven minutes.
In the first half-hour, Deco was superb. His flicks constantly embarrassed the Madrid midfield - no mean feat when it contains the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Guti. The 26-year-old nearly created a second for his team with a perfect cross which striker Derlei almost converted with a fine snapshot. Disappointingly for the home side, he faded thereafter as Madrid, and Figo in particular, took control.
The visitors' No10 had already got to the by-line twice and provided tantalising crosses for his team-mates before Iván Helguera equalised. Although Figo did not play a part in the goal, he almost created a second within minutes. He skipped his way clear of his marker and sent over another pinpoint centre which Santiago Solari flicked towards goal, producing a smart save from Vítor Baía.
By now Madrid were rampant and Solari put them ahead eight minutes before the break before a moment of Figo magic midway through the second half sealed the win. He earned a right-wing free-kick after turning the hapless Maniche inside out on more than one occasion and then fired the dead ball low to the edge of the area and, with the Porto defence expecting a floated delivery, Zidane had plenty of time to run in and finish.
Deco had been well and truly outshone and such was his frustration that he earned himself a place in the referee's notebook with a crude lunge at Michel Salgado. He did regain his composure to set up a chance for substitute Edgaras Jankauskas, but his header was well saved by Casillas.
With the points in the bag, Figo and Madrid were indulging in a few party tricks and another clever through-ball from the Portuguese star allowed substitute Raúl González to go through but his cheeky lob drifted over.
Portuguese future bright
It mattered little as Madrid eased to the win with Figo arguably their star man. On this evidence, tales of his demise appear to be grossly exaggerated. And with Deco - though outshone tonight - champing at the bit to become a permanent fixture in the national side, the future of Portuguese football appears to be very bright indeed.
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