From goalkeeper Vítor Baía to young forward Carlos Alberto, FC Porto were deserving winners.
By Matthew Spiro in Gelsenkirchen
FC Porto goalkeeper Vítor Baía joined an élite group when he completed a hat-trick of continental titles today, adding a UEFA Champions League medal to his previous UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup successes.
The 35-year-old, who won the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup with FC Barcelona in 1997 and the UEFA Cup with Porto last season, became only the tenth man to achieve the treble as Porto beat AS Monaco FC 3-0. He may be in the twilight of his career - and no longer first choice for Portugal - but there can be few goalkeepers in Europe who possess his calm in the big matches.
Porto's defence had started nervously and Lucas Bernardi's shrewd pass had Ludovic Giuly racing clear on goal inside three minutes. But, as has been the case so often in the last two seasons - during which time Porto had already claimed five major trophies - their goalkeeper was alert to the danger, racing out of his box to make a crucial sliding challenge.
Gaining in confidence
Porto gained in confidence and Baía was rarely called into action. His ability was evident again on 58 minutes when he bravely met Jérôme Rothen's free-kick with a firm punch, taking a clattering blow from Fernando Morientes in the process.
Baía's performance laid the foundations for his team-mates and the outstanding togetherness that coach José Mourinho has created was there for all to see as Porto picked up their first European crown since 1987. Several players from the Porto team that beat FC Bayern München 17 years ago were present in the Arena AufSchalke to see their successors, and they could not have failed to have been impressed.
The atmosphere was building long before kick-off as hoards of expectant Porto fans poured into the stands to get an early glimpse of their heroes warming up. A hearty rendition of Porto's anthem 'Sons of the Dragon' reverberated around the ground, though singing soon changed to boos when former Monaco striker Jürgen Klinsmann predicted victory for his old side in a pitchside interview.
Mild conditions in Gelsenkirchen meant the retractable roof was not used, but the stadium design, with its complicated network of overhanging beams, ensured that noise levels reached an impressive crescendo. Those beams were the centre of attention before kick-off as some courageous bungee-jumpers and trapeze artists descended towards the pitch in spectacular fashion.
There was no shortage of excitement on the pitch either once the game started. Some neutrals may have bemoaned the lack of international stars on display, but Monaco and Porto gave the watching public - estimated at more than 250 million - the chance to see some of Europe's finest young talent. Near the top of that list must be Porto's 19-year-old Brazilian forward Carlos Alberto, who only arrived at the club from Fluminense FC in January. He opened the scoring with an opportunist 39th-minute strike.
Rothen and Patrice Evra, two of Monaco's shining lights this season, toiled on the left wing, but their progress was invariably halted by Porto's exceptional young right-back Paulo Ferreira. Deco, scorer of Porto's clinical second goal, produced another virtuoso performance, while centre-back Ricardo Carvalho was typically commanding.
The superb young players at Porto and Monaco have been one of the features of this season's competition, and they look sure to grace the top stage for years to come. But every great team needs experience, and in Baía Porto have just that.