Taking FC Porto to the UEFA Champions League final would be a dream for Vítor Baía.
By Jim Wirth
He may have fallen from favour with the Portuguese national team, but goalkeeper Vítor Baía remains a firm favourite with FC Porto. Now aged 34, he is practically part of the furniture at the club, and his loyalty could yet be rewarded with the first UEFA Champions League crown of his career.
Having featured in the side that won the UEFA Cup in a dramatic final against Celtic FC last season, Vítor Baía is now just two games away from a place in this year's Champions League final in Gelsenkirchen, and he is unfazed by the prospect of facing semi-final opponents RC Deportivo La Coruña.
'Play to win'
"We eliminated a potential champion in Manchester United [FC], and now we have to play another big club who are one of the top teams in European football," he said. "Our attitude remains the same - we play to win. We don't know any other way."
With the continent's traditional giants having fallen by the wayside in the competition, Porto appear to have a great chance of claiming the European Champion Clubs' Cup for the first time since beating FC Bayern München in the 1986/87 final in Vienna.
It is an occasion Vítor Baía remembers well. "It was a fantastic moment," he said. "I was in the youth team at the time and that moment was something extraordinary. After the match I went to Porto's downtown area with my friends to celebrate the famous win. The thought of being able to repeat it is unbelievable."
Such a feat would have seemed inconceivable a few years ago, with Porto lacking the finances available to the clubs regarded as Europe's biggest. But for Vítor Baía, Porto's current successes mark the club's re-emergence as a major force at the top level.
"It is great, it shows the direction this club is moving in in Europe," he said. "It shows the path the club is standing on. We have earned the respect of the football world. We have a great coach and good quality players. All the ingredients are there to make Porto a top team in Europe."
For Vítor Baía, playing for Porto is a source of intense pride. Aside from a three-year stint in Spain with FC Barcelona, the goalkeeper who wears the No99 shirt has dedicated his career to the club, and he cannot disguise his passion for his hometown team.
"Every moment at Porto is very special as I was born here and my sporting career started at this club," he said. "There is a strong bond between myself and all the people who are part of the club, from the management to the fans and I fight for and defend this club as if it were my own."
However, for all his passion, the custodian is approaching Wednesday's home leg of the semi-final against Deportivo in calm fashion. Having recovered from the injury which ruined his spell at Barcelona and nearly ended his career, Vítor Baía exudes a serene sense of confidence.
Best to come
"After everything I feel peaceful now - I feel tranquil," he said. "The fact I am playing again after all the injuries I have had gives me great satisfaction. All the titles I have won were very important but
I am convinced, and always will be, that the best is still to come."