The 36-year-old Mauro Silva is dreaming of an incredible triumph with RC Deportivo La Coruña.
By Jim Wirth
By his age, most outfield players have long since hung up their boots. However, RC Deportivo La Coruña midfield player Mauro Silva celebrated his 36th birthday by signing a one-year extension with the Spanish club, and he is now two games away from his first UEFA Champions League final.
Having joined Deportivo in 1992, the Brazilian is an experienced campaigner in UEFA competition. Yet while most of Europe was shocked at the way his team ripped apart AC Milan at the Riazor to claim a semi-final place against FC Porto, it was no surprise for Mauro Silva.
"Nobody expected us to win," he said, reflecting on how Deportivo turned a 4-1 first-leg defeat into a 5-4 aggregate victory. "Nobody expected us to do what we did, but we believed and we knew among ourselves we could do it - we could score the four goals needed to knock them out."
The quarter-final second leg at the Riazor is already drifting into the realms of legend. The game saw Deportivo crush a Milan side who were favourites to retain the European Champion Clubs' Cup until fate intervened. "The fact we scored the first goal after just five minutes of the match was crucial," said Mauro Silva. "After that they really panicked. At 1-0 we kept playing, kept playing for more goals. We did it, they had no reply to us. It was too difficult for them."
The result has undoubtedly given Deportivo a huge confidence boost as they head into the away leg of their tie against the 2002/03 UEFA Cup winners. However, Mauro Silva is not getting carried away by the victory against Milan. He is expecting a difficult night at the Dragão stadium.
Respect for Porto
"You have to respect a team that won the UEFA Cup last season," he said. "We have to be very careful. We have to go to Porto and we have to try and score like we did at the San Siro. To score away has proved to be the key for us this season."
Should they meet that aim, Porto will not relish a trip to the Riazor for the return match, and Mauro Silva - who won the 1994 FIFA World Cup with Brazil - will be on course for his greatest achievement with Deportivo since lifting the Primera División title in 1999/00.
"I am very proud of our achievements," he said. "I have been here over ten years and to think that we have come this far after Deportivo previously had 18 unbroken years in the second division. After we won promotion, we were close to relegation again but now we're one of the best four teams in Europe."
Certainly, Javier Irureta's side are in the midst of an incredible campaign in Europe, but as he faces the prospect of retirement next season, Mauro Silva is hoping to end his personal journey with Deportivo with the greatest triumph of his club career.
"It would be fantastic to go all the way," he said. "To win this competition with a team like Deportivo would be worth more than winning it with Real Madrid [CF], Manchester United [FC] or Milan - it would be with my Deportivo. And for La Coruna, with a population of just 200,000, it would be extraordinary."