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Saving the best until last

Celtic FC goalkeeper Robert Douglas is in a unique position to savour the UEFA Cup final.

By Roddy Forsyth

As a man who came late to football - Robert Douglas was a bricklayer before he took up the professional game - the Celtic FC goalkeeper is in a unique position to savour the sensation of reaching a European final.

Close call
However, it was a close call for the 31-year-old, who last month suffered a leg injury which threatened to keep him out of the final. He readily confesses that when he limped from the field during Celtic's 2-1 victory against Rangers FC at Ibrox on 27 April, a win which blew the Scottish championship race wide open, he feared his chance of appearing in Seville had gone.

'Massive game'
"I was very worried but I've been training now for two weeks with Terry Gennoe (Celtic's goalkeeping coach) and I've been able to kick the ball, so now I'm delighted," Douglas said. "For me this is a massive, massive game and I know we just have to go out and give it our best shot. There's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves afterwards.

Tough match
"Porto are going to be very hard opponents - there's not a shadow of a doubt about that - and their result against [S.S.] Lazio in the semi-finals is all that has to be said," he added. "They beat us 3-0 in Portugal in the [2001/02 UEFA] Champions League but we are a better team this time. I started football late so for me to be here is testimony to the patience of the people who coached me.

Lethal Larsson
"One pleasure in playing in goal for Celtic is that Henrik Larsson is at the other end of the pitch," said the goalkeeper. "He scored against me so many times when I was with Dundee [FC] that I thought he would get to put me on his mantelpiece but now that I am in the same team I love it every time he puts the ball past another goalkeeper. The tempo of Scottish Premier league games is faster than European games but even so, when I watched Henrik's left-foot goal against [semi-final opponents] Boavista [FC] in Portugal it seemed to take about three minutes to hit the net.

Strong spirit
"Scottish football gets a caning, sometimes justified, mostly unjustified, so it's particularly good to see Celtic do their bit for the game in Scotland," said Douglas. "As a goalkeeper, you make great saves and you're a hero - make one mistake and you're a dud. I've made saves in this tournament but the other lads have cleared the ball off the line, too - Johan Mjällby did it against Boavista - and we have all dug deep when we've had to, so it's all down to team spirit. The spirit in this side is particularly strong and that's down to the manager.

Praise for coach
"Since Martin O'Neill came to Celtic you could probably count on the fingers of two hands the number of games we've lost," said Douglas. "So much of what we have done is down to him. As for me, when I walk out on the pitch, I'm single-minded, selfish almost, because I'm totally focused on wanting to do well with this team. I wouldn't play if I had a doubt about my fitness - I wouldn't do that to my team-mates - but actually I've been in the gym a lot since I was injured and I've even lost weight. So I'm cruising, really."