Vicente and Mista may have earned the plaudits but Amedeo Carboni emerged as the final's defining figure.
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By Adrian Harte in Gothenburg
Vicente Rodríguez and Mista may have earned the plaudits as Valencia CF triumphed against Olympique de Marseille in the 2004 UEFA Cup final, but it was unsung full-back Amedeo Carboni who emerged as the night's defining figure.
The Italian became, at the age of 39 years and 43 days, the oldest player to win a European final. Fittingly, the honour came on his 100th appearance in European competition and at a venue, the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, where he had triumphed in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final for UC Sampdoria in 1990.
Carboni, the epitome of the longevity of the dedicated modern professional player, excelled in a typically miserly defensive performance from the Spanish champions. As Steve Marlet and then the frustrated Didier Drogba drifted wide to find space they found their way blocked by the veteran Italian, who is contracted to play for the new UEFA Cup holders until he is 41.
Valencia coach Rafael Benítez believes there is more success to come for the defender. He told uefa.com: "Having Carboni means that we are one of the most experienced teams but we are not the oldest. That means that he and we can reach many more finals and win them."
Looking to the future was the leitmotif running through Benítez's post-match pronouncements. "We will enjoy ourselves and enjoy the moment," said the Valencia coach. "Where are the limits for this team? The limits depend on our opponents and it depends on the limits you set yourselves. We will aim for more titles and set different goals. It is important to keep a winning mentality."
That theme was taken up by man of the match Mista. "We have achieved everything we set out to achieve this season and anything more is a gift," said the Spanish striker, who has scored 25 goals this season and starred in Valencia's double success; he may even be on the verge of a call-up to Iñaki Sáez's national squad for UEFA EURO 2004™. "But this has given us a lot of confidence and that will motivate us for next season."
Marseille coach José Anigo was magnanimous in defeat and refused to dwell too much on referee Pierluigi Collina's decision to send off Fabien Barthez on the stroke of half-time. "In the first half we had more of the game - we started well and could have caused Valencia trouble," Anigo said. "I thought the red card was harsh and under other circumstances he might just have been booked. Once that happened the match really became complicated for us."
Valencia took control after Barthez's dismissal, with Vicente converting the resulting spot-kick and Mista scoring a second early in the second half. "Benítez is a very intelligent man and he did his best to cause damage to us," Anigo acknowledged. "Valencia ended up with too much space."
The loss of Barthez, Marseille's sole survivor from their 1993 UEFA Champions League triumph, was especially hard to overcome, Anigo added. "When you lose a winner like Barthez, a calming influence and a player of great confidence, it is hard to recover."
But even Anigo was able to look to the future with confidence just months after taking over at the club saying: "I am happy with what we have achieved here; this team has a fighting spirit and a good future ahead of it. Next season we will be a force to be reckoned with in the French league."
Unfortunately, Marseille will not grace the European stage next season but Valencia will be back in the Champions League and will be well fancied to finally end their hoodoo in Europe's premier competition.