Five years ago a victory over Manchester United FC proved the catalyst for FC Porto's run to UEFA Champions League glory and, as the sides meet again on Tuesday, club favourite Vítor Baía thinks history may be repeated.
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As FC Porto prepare to grace the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since winning the competition in 2003/04, club favourite Vítor Baía reflects on that unexpected triumph and the moment the side "realised we could be European champions" after beating Manchester United FC, their opponents this week.
"We were euphoric, we felt like little children again," said former goalkeeper Baía as he recalled that night in Gelsenkirchen when Porto swept aside AS Monaco FC 3-0 to be crowned continental champions for the second time. "It was a contagious happiness, a unique moment; one that will forever be imprinted in the history of FC Porto, and in our memories too. It is something players all over the world want to achieve and we had the privilege of being able to."
It came against all expectations. José Mourinho's team advanced through the group stage unnoticed and people only really began to take notice when they took the significant scalp of Manchester United in the last 16 – just. Leading 2-1 after the home leg, Porto were heading out on the away-goals rule at Old Trafford but there was a twist in the tail. "We had great confidence in our abilities," said Baía, now 39. "If we didn't score at the beginning we would score at the end. We ended up scoring right at the end [through Costinha]. People probably still remember Mourinho running along the touchline to celebrate with the players; that image will last forever. It was then that we realised we could really be European champions."
Fast-forward five years and the class of 2009 are in a very familiar position ahead of another meeting with United, this time in the quarter-finals. They may be Portuguese titleholders but, especially after losing two of their opening three UEFA Champions League games, few predicted they would pip Arsenal FC in the group stage and then hold off Club Atlético de Madrid in the first knockout round. "The team, while young, have shown great maturity at key moments," said Baía, who now divides his time between completing a university degree and acting as a Porto director. "It's a credit to all the people working at the club. The last game against Atlético Madrid gave us more confidence and makes us believe that we can get through this round as well."
United provide formidable opposition, however, and are "stronger and more balanced" than the side Porto overcame in 2004 according to Baía. He added: "They've always had great players, but at the moment they have good players in every position. It's not for no reason that they're the defending champions of Europe, but we believe – we believe it's possible to go through.
We believe we can reach the semi-finals and repeat what we did in 2004."
Baía was no stranger to success during his 18 years as a professional, a haul of 31 winners' medals representing a bounty Portugal's Descobridores of yore would have been proud of. Those titles include all three major European club competitions, making him the ninth and possibly last player to achieve the hat-trick. Having claimed the UEFA Cup 12 months earlier with Porto and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup during a two-year spell at FC Barcelona between 1996 and 1998, the UEFA Champions League represented the biggest prize. "We achieved something fantastic for a team the size of Porto and it was a fantastic year all round," he said. Time will tell as to whether the side can repeat the feat.