FC Porto forward Benni McCarthy believes his team's mentality will be the key against RC Deportivo La Coruña.
By Fergus O'Shea
RC Deportivo La Coruña may have produced the UEFA Champions League's most dramatic comeback to oust AC Milan in the last eight, but as FC Porto striker Benni McCarthy awaits the Spanish side's visit to Portugal tonight, he is thinking to the first leg of that topsy-turvy tie.
Milan cruised past Deportivo 4-1 to establish a lead that was - wrongly - thought to be unassailable, and McCarthy is hoping that Javier Irueta's team will show similar away form in the Estádio do Dragão. The South African international told uefa.com: "Everybody knows they are a quality side and if they are in the right mood they can beat anyone in the world. But hopefully they will be in the same mood as when Milan beat them 4-1 and then we would hope to do the same."
UEFA Cup holders Porto showed their capability by eliminating Manchester United FC and Olympique Lyonnais in the last two rounds. And their winning attitude is summed up by McCarthy, who joined from Spain's RC Celta de Vigo in the summer: "We would not make the same mistake as Milan and go to La Coruna and try to defend the lead. That is crazy, you have to play as you know and try to build on your lead."
The runaway Portuguese Superliga leaders gave just such a masterclass in two-legged football against first knockout-round opponents United. McCarthy was in inspired form in the first leg, scoring both Porto goals in a 2-1 home win, and although they fell behind in the return a late strike saw them through.
"Since beating United, life has been really good for me and for the team as a whole," McCarthy said. "It just gave team morale a massive boost, our confidence grew incredibly. We have been getting stronger all the time and if we win in the league next week, we will have won that. It would be nice to wrap that up so we can concentrate on the Champions League."
McCarthy himself has found a new lease of life at a club where he first played on loan in the 2001/02 campaign, scoring 12 goals in ten appearances. Last term he was sidelined by Celta, starting only twice all season, but while his former club are long out of the Champions League and fighting relegation, McCarthy is now only 180 minutes from a possible final.
He said: "When you are sitting on the bench the whole time it can weigh on your mind. When I was with Celta, luck was really not on my side. I became a washed-out player, I thought I was finished and yet now I am playing well and scoring goals. I learned a lot about myself in that time."
Praise for coach
Of course, playing under José Mourinho, arguably the hottest coaching property in Europe right now, has been a huge help. "He is probably the best coach in the world at man-management at the moment," McCarthy stressed. "The players understand him and like him. He has helped us all improve individually but also collectively as a team."
Now is the time for that work to bear fruit, and McCarthy is prepared to do his share. "I hope I bring a lot of enthusiasm to the team," he said. "I try to complement the hard work of the team. It is important that their work at the back and in the middle does not go unrewarded."