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Porto in safe hands

For FC Porto's Vitor Baía the UEFA Cup final caps a triumphant comeback.

By Onofre Costa and Diogo Teixeira

For FC Porto goalkeeper Vitor Baía the UEFA Cup final brings to an end a season which has seen him triumph over ill fortune and laugh in the face of adversity.

Long-term injuries
Hit by a serious knee injury after UEFA EURO 2000™ which saw him undergo four operations, Baía only returned to full fitness in January 2002 after 17 months on the sidelines. The 33-year-old was duly recalled by Portugal for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, however his country's disappointing performances led to first-round elimination and, for the time being, the end of his own international career.

Relegated to bench
To add to the former Porto youth player's worries the 2002/03 season began with the arrival at the club of goalkeeper Nuno Espírito Santo from RC Deportivo La Coruña. Baía was swiftly relegated to the substitutes' bench at the Bessa stadium and his critics began to prepare the career obituaries.

Assured performances
Several matches later though Baía had reclaimed the goalkeeper's shirt. He then proceeded to hold on to it with a series of assured performances which saw him regain the faith of his coach, the media and fans alike. In the process he also helped Porto lift the Portuguese league championship and reach the finals of the UEFA Cup and Portuguese Cup.

Time to consider
As he prepares for the UEFA Cup final, Baía is well aware of the size of the task facing him and his team-mates. "We are calm and confident but we know it will be very, very hard", he said. "There are no favourites in a European final. Knowing how the two clubs play, the way they face a football match, I reckon this will be a great match, a very interesting game to follow. But there are no favourites."

Celtic threat
The goalkeeper, who has spent his entire career with Porto save for a three-year sojourn with FC Barcelona, is also mindful of the particular threats the Celtic side bring to bear. "We have to watch out because their forwards are very strong and dangerous, especially in the air and from long balls," he said. "We'll have to be prepared for that. I think we have quality defenders capable of dealing with the Celtic's strong points. I don't think we'll have special difficulties because we're playing against a team playing in a British style."

Glittering CV
With seven Portuguese league titles, three Portuguese cups, one Spanish title, one Spanish Cup, one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and 80 caps for his country already littering his CV, Baía has more medals to his name than anyone else in the Porto squad - one more on Wednesday night would be an appropriate way to end a remarkable year.