By Paul Saffer
The end of the year is but hours away, so uefa.com is ready to unveil the gongs for the best of the UEFA Champions League in 2004.
Pavel Nedved (Juventus FC at AFC Ajax)
The perfect combination of teamwork and individual brilliance. Alessandro De Piero played a swerving pass into the box for Mauro Camoranesi, who moved to the right of goal and, under pressure, side-footed the ball to the on-rushing Nedved. The former Czech international lofted a shot that curled unerringly into the top corner. Unsurprisingly, Juventus took just four matches to move into the knockout round. Ajax never really recovered.
"Tonight I am a crazy man and Roman Abramovich is also going mad like me!"
Claudio Ranieri (Chelsea FC at Arsenal FC)
Chelsea manager Ranieri could hardly contain his joy after Wayne Bridge's late winner for Chelsea against Arsenal at Highbury last April put his team into the Champions League semi-finals. Ranieri, whose sacking by club owner Abramovich had long been predicted, was aware that eventual defeat, as occurred against AS Monaco FC in the last four, would trigger his demise.
Carlos Alberto (FC Porto)
Although Porto had progressed comfortably through the 2003/04 group stage, they still seemed outsiders for the title, not least after being drawn against Manchester United FC. Even worse, just before Christmas key striker Derlei tore knee ligaments and was ruled out for months. José Mourinho's solution? To sign a promising 19-year-old from Fluminense FC of Brazil. Carlos Alberto started all seven of Porto's knockout games and opened the scoring in their 3-0 victory against AS Monaco FC in the final. No wonder the man with the biggest chequebook in football - Abramovich - turned to Mourinho to succeed Ranieri.
RC Deportivo La Coruña v AC Milan
So good it entered the record books. Having lost 4-1 at holders Milan in last season's quarter-finals, few gave Deportivo a chance of turning the tie at the Riazor. But Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valerón and Alberto Luque struck before the break in the return to put Deportivo ahead on away goals. Fran later scored another to ensure the club became the first to triumph in a two-legged knockout round tie in the Champions League after going into the second leg trailing by three goals.
BEST RETURN TO HAUNT
Fernando Morientes (AS Monaco FC v Real Madrid CF)
Displaced by Ronaldo at Madrid a year before and rarely a starter in 2002/03, Morientes moved on loan to Monaco for last season. He had already scored five Champions League goals for the club when he struck a late effort to reduce arrears to 4-2 in the first leg of their quarter-final at Santiago Bernabéu. Madrid fans applauded graciously, but the clapping ceased when his header put Monaco within one goal of their visitors and Ludovic Giuly ended the Spanish champions' campaign soon after. Morientes ended the competition with an appearance in the final and was the tournament's leading scorer with nine goals.
MOMENT OF 2004
Costinha (Porto v Manchester United)
As Porto's first knockout round encounter at Old Trafford entered added time, they trailed on away goals; their 2-1 first-leg lead cancelled out by a Paul Scholes effort. Indeed, had Scholes not had a goal disallowed for offside before half-time, Porto would have been as good as out. But they held on and as full time approached Costinha pounced on to a rebound to score after Tim Howard blocked Benni McCarthy's free-kick. United were out and eleven weeks later Porto were European champions.
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