FC Porto defender Ricardo Carvalho must neutralise Fernando Morientes in the final.
By Diogo Teixeira
Some around FC Porto say that Ricardo Carvalho is one of the most promising players in Portuguese football. The remainder are convinced that, despite his youth, the centre-back is already one of the best in Europe.
At 26, Ricardo Carvalho is one of only three players to have featured in every minute of Porto's UEFA Champions League campaign alongside Vítor Baía and Paulo Ferreira. And in those 1080 minutes he has demonstrated that there are many sides to his game.
An imposing figure, he is almost unbeatable in the air and provides an extra attacking option for his team with his regular forays forward. He is also useful with his head, having made a valuable contribution by scoring Porto's second goal at home to Olympique Lyonnais in the quarter-finals.
However, the defender faces a stern test when he comes up against AS Monaco FC forward Fernando Morientes, the Champions League's eleven-goal top scorer, in Wednesday's final in Gelsenkirchen. This is a threat he is all too aware of.
"The best way to neutralise strikers is to give them as little space as possible," he said. "Morientes can do a lot of impressive things with very little space, so our task will be even harder."
Ricardo Carvalho joined Porto in the 1997/98 campaign, yet it was not until four years later, following a series of loan spells, that he secured a first-team place. Now, after a sensational season in 2002/03, the Estádio do Dragão is where many Porto fans would like to see him to stay.
However, if beating Celtic FC 3-2 in the UEFA Cup final in Seville seemed the highlight of the centre-half's career, it could be just the prelude to something even better in this year's Champions League - something even the most optimistic Porto player could not have predicted.
"It was not our goal at the start of the season, and was not what Monaco expected either," he said. "I think that should give this match a special flavour. Monaco are in the final after a brilliant season.
They are very similar to us - not famous for individual players but for their collective strength."
The experience of playing in a major final so recently would appear to be an advantage for Porto, but Ricardo Carvalho is not sure. "A final is decided by players and team performances, not by who has the most experience," he said. "We must remember that Monaco have some great players."
This caution could be down to a rare Porto defeat last week when they lost the Portuguese Cup final to SL Benfica. "We really wanted to win that cup," he said. "It's an important trophy but we didn't get it. Now we have to focus on this final, to end the season with a victory and one more title."
Having made a habit of winning in the last few seasons, Ricardo Carvalho is not used to such disappointments. But if his team-mates can match his style and commitment in Gelsenkirchen, he may be set for a remarkably short losing streak.