The sense of anticipation is huge. Celtic FC get ready to meet FC Porto in the UEFA Cup final.
By Simon Hart
The Estadio Olímpico in Seville stands on the site of EXPO 92, the world exhibition that put the spotlight on this proud Andalusian city.
An exhibition of a different kind takes place on Wednesday, the UEFA Cup final between Celtic FC and FC Porto, and the sense of anticipation could not be greater. With up to 70,000 Celtic and 30,000 Porto fans expected in town, the headline in Tuesday's El Correo de Andalucía ran: "The invasion has begun".
'Written in our memories'
RTP, Portugal's state television network, will broadcast live from Seville all day on Wednesday and the excitement is understandable according to Porto's coach, José Mourinho, who said: "These are two teams who have not been to a European final for many years - this will be written in our memories and in the memories of our clubs."
"I think the Spanish, Italian, English, German clubs are used to getting to finals but when our teams get there, we must do everything to boost the credibility of our countries," Mourinho added, hinting that something special awaits. For each club, victory would mark their country's first UEFA Cup success; moreover it would end a long wait for European honours since both lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup, Celtic in 1967 and Porto 20 years later.
The similarities do not end there. Both are missing key forwards, with Celtic's John Hartson injured and Porto's Hélder Postiga suspended. Chris Sutton is likely to replace Hartson, while one of Edgaras Jankauskas, Capucho and Paulo Ferreira will take Hélder Postiga's place.
However, they retain the services of serial matchwinners in Derlei and Henrik Larsson, the tournament's leading scorers with ten and nine goals respectively. Mourinho said "both smell the goal", adding: "They are lucky in the UEFA Cup this season and when a player is in a good mood it's easier for him to score."
Larsson scored the only goal when Celtic beat Porto in September 2001 in the UEFA Champions League first group stage. Porto won the return 3-0 but only three regulars - Vítor Baía, Costinha and Deco - remain in their team. Celtic have also changed, according to Swedish defender Johan Mjällby.
"We're more experienced now," he said. "When we played in the Champions League we were a bit naïve but this year we've been successful away from home - when you play more and more games in Europe and against strong opposition you gain more experience and being in the final is proof of that." Then they lost all three away games. Now they have reached the final by winning four ties outside Scotland.
Both sides have impressed en route to Seville. Porto won at Panathinaikos FC and overcame S.S. Lazio; Celtic's scalps include VfB Stuttgart and Liverpool FC. Both have had strong domestic campaigns too, Porto winning the Portuguese title while Celtic play their final league match on Sunday separated by goals scored from leaders Rangers FC.
Heat is on
Mourinho, who was unhappy with the state of the pitch, rates his side's chances as "50-50". His Celtic counterpart Martin O'Neill, however, believes the "unseasonably hot" weather will not help his men. It will be close to 30 degrees at kick-off on Wednesday. But the heat will be on in all respects. "It's 33 years since Celtic were in a final and that's a long time," said O'Neill. For Celtic and Porto, it is time to write another chapter.