Scotland and Portugal may not be the biggest countries on the European football map but Celtic FC and FC Porto could yet serve up a classic when they meet in the UEFA Cup final in Seville next month.
That was the message from the Porto coach José Mourinho after his side completed a 4-1 aggregate victory against Italian side S.S. Lazio with a goalless draw in Rome last night. "The final against Celtic could be a fantastic match," he said. "
Our place in the final is merited and I am very proud of my players. We were very strong and the way we played, we could have confirmed our superiority with an even better result."
The only downside for Porto, the Portuguese league leaders and cup finalists who are chasing a famous treble, was the sending-off of striker Hélder Postiga, dismissed along with Lazio's César at the end of the first half for violent conduct. The player faces an automatic suspension and will miss the final.
For Lazio coach Roberto Mancini, meanwhile, there was the disappointment of Claudio López's missed penalty on 57 minutes. "It wasn't a great evening for us, it got worse after the penalty miss," he said. "Had we scored then the whole game could have changed."
Porto's success, though, makes them favourites to land Portugal's first European trophy since 1987, when the Dragons themselves lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Lazio defender Fernando Couto said: "I have never hidden my admiration for Porto and I am happy for them. It was important for Portuguese football that Porto won and it is great to have a team in Seville."
However, the dream of an all-Portuguese final died as Boavista FC went down 1-0 at home against Celtic to lose 2-1 on aggregate. Jaime Pacheco's team were set to join their city rivals in Andalusia until Henrik Larsson struck the deciding goal on 79 minutes. "Celtic looked like they didn't believe they could score and win the game but turned the tie around in one move. We had a plan, a reality not just a dream, and could have lived that reality by going to the UEFA Cup final."
But Celtic manager Martin O'Neill had no sympathy after his club reached their first European final since the Champions' Cup of 1970. "
It is a marvellous feeling and we will go and enjoy it [the final]. I think we thoroughly merited a visit to the final."
O'Neill, who paid tribute to goalscorer Larsson - "he has scored a lot of crucial goals", added that Porto "will be favourites to win" at the Olímpico stadium on 21 May. "With respect to Boavista, Porto are different again. We played them last year in the [UEFA] Champions League and we won at Celtic and lost heavily here. It will be a hard game for us." And one that could thrill neutrals everywhere.
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