Ricardo Sá Pinto sees Sporting Clube de Portugal's UEFA Cup success as a credit to Portugal.
By Hugo Pietra
At 32, Ricardo Sá Pinto is one of the oldest players in the Sporting Clube de Portugal squad, but while he may have been around the block a few times, his desire to win the UEFA Cup against PFC CSKA Moskva on Wednesday is every bit as fervent as that of his younger team-mates.
Injury may have robbed Sá Pinto of the chance of playing regular first-team football in recent campaigns, but the UEFA Cup has given him a renewed lease of life this season - not least because of the prospect of winning a major final on home turf at the Estádio José Alvalade on 18 May.
"From the start, we all knew that the final would be played in our stadium," he told uefa.com. "We knew that it would be very hard for us to reach the final as our form in recent European campaigns has been unpredictable. We took one game at a time, always knowing that getting to the final would be a dream for us."
With that dream in mind, Sporting seemed to raise their game, and their free-flowing, attack-minded style of football had them billed as tournament favourites long before they won through to the final on away goals after a heart-stopping semi-final success against AZ Alkmaar.
They may have reached the final by the narrowest of margins, but Sá Pinto has no doubt that Sporting merit their place. "We deserve to be in this final and all that is left for us is to pick up the trophy," he said. "That would see our mission accomplished and be a reward for the difficult path we have walked."
Reaching the final in Lisbon may have the look of divine destiny about it, but Portugal's loss to Greece at UEFA EURO 2004™ last summer has taught Portuguese players that the fates can lay nasty shocks in store for those who believe in happy endings. Sá Pinto for one expects a tough game against CSKA.
"There will not be many mistakes in the game," he said. "CSKA and Sporting are experienced teams who play attacking football. Both sides deserve to be in the final for the football they have played this season. I am sure it will be a great spectacle but I know it will be very tight."
As a result, Sá Pinto hopes Sporting's fans can help lift the team. "I hope the supporters can help us because they can be our 12th player," he said. "They can give the players the confidence they need during the match. It is very important to feel that they are behind us."
Sporting's fans have been in good voice throughout the UEFA Cup campaign - the first to incorporate a group stage. Sá Pinto welcomed the new format, saying: "It is fairer because teams have four matches to prove their worth. Otherwise we could have had one bad match and dropped out of the competition."
As it is, the 45-times capped former Portuguese international has a chance to win a third major club title for a SuperLiga club in as many years, following FC Porto's successes in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup and 2003/04 UEFA Champions League. "I think we are showing how good Portuguese football can be," Sá Pinto said. "It is a great achievement for the country."