By Diogo Teixeira
As they prepare to take on AS Monaco FC, FC Porto will face French opposition in the UEFA Champions League final for the third time this season. On the road to Gelsenkirchen, the Portuguese champions overcame Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais; and in both games it was Maniche who scored decisive goals.
The midfield player opened the scoring for his side in the
3-2 group stage win at Marseille and then scored twice in Lyon to speed Porto through to their semi-final meeting with RC Deportivo La Coruña. It is a habit that Maniche hopes he can keep up in the final.
"I managed it against Marseille and Lyon so of course it would be great if I could score again," the Portuguese international told uefa.com. "Scoring goals is always important and do it in a final like this would be a dream but the most important thing is to win the match."
While Costinha's responsibility in the Porto midfield is to stamp out opposition moves, Maniche is the bridge between midfield and attack. The 26-year-old is a whirl of activity in Porto matches. He also likes to try his luck with shots at goal. "I like to have the ball at my feet, but if there's a good chance of making a pass, I'll do it immediately," he explained.
An argument with the board of directors saw Maniche move from SL Benfica to Porto last season, and he has become a favourite of coach José Mourinho. Maniche is also a great believer in his coach's abilities. "He is a special man for me and has been doing a great job," he said.
While speculation continues to link Mourinho with a move away from Porto, Maniche was unwilling to discuss such an eventuality, preferring to focus on the task at hand - following up Porto's UEFA Cup win of 2002/03 with an even more illustrious trophy in 2003/04.
Having missed only one of their European games - the group stage draw against Real Madrid CF - Maniche has done enough to deserve his place in the final, and also, after eight months out of the reckoning, a place in Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad to contest UEFA EURO 2004™ on home soil.
However, with the Portuguese title having been won and the European Championship finals still a few weeks away, Maniche and Porto are thinking of nothing but their task in Gelsenkirchen. "We are now focused on this match - just that," he said. "We are a very ambitious squad and getting better by the day."
As such an important member of Mourinho's squad, Maniche looks certain to start the game at the Arena Aufschalke. However, even if he does not, he will be backing his team: "Any player wants to play this final and I am not an exception, but regardless of who plays I know the team will do their best to bring the cup to Porto," he said.
And Maniche knows how hard his side must work to overcome Monaco - and to keep the likes of Fernando Morientes and Ludovic Giuly in check. "Morientes and Guily are great players that can change a game in minutes," he said. "There are no favourites for a match like this one. It's common sense but each team has a 50-50 chance."
With such an inspiring record against French opposition this season, Porto will be hoping that Maniche can tip the odds in their favour on Wednesday.
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