Derlei may have earned the plaudits with his two-goal display but Deco was the inspiration.
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By Adrian Harte and Onofre Costa
Derlei may have earned the plaudits and the Carlsberg Man of the Match award with his two-goal display but there was no doubt as to the inspiration behind FC Porto's first UEFA Cup win: Deco. His pass for Porto's second goal the highlight of a virtuoso display of flair, finesse and fine footwork.
Man to watch
The classical playmaker may, like competition top scorer Derlei, have been born in Brazil but he is now a Portuguese international. And his display in the Estadio Olímpico in Seville already marks him out as a player to watch when Portugal host UEFA EURO 2004™ next summer.
Strikers may get the credit for great goals, like Henrik Larsson, and for predatory prowess, like Derlei, but the perfect assist can often be overlooked. His sublime pass for Dmitri Alenichev's goal was a thing of rare beauty. Feinting as if to use his left, he clipped the ball diagonally with the outside of his right to set the Russian up for a simple finish to restore Porto's lead at 2-1.
Deco is usually one to let his boots to the talking, but he spoke to uefa.com about that pass. He said: "I retrieved the ball from a defender, I dribbled past an opponent and Alenichev produced some very good movement off the ball and I saw that and gave him the ball. It was a relatively simple thing to do. It is only natural that situations like happen during this match."
Porto coach José Mourinho, who rated the match as "a great example to those who love football", was generous in his praise for Deco. He told uefa.com: "He was lucky to be fit to last until the end because the tackle by [Dianbobo] Balde could have ended his career. But he played fantastically. It was a very difficult match for him because [Neil] Lennon was picking him up man to man. But the way he moved, the way he allowed us to switch to 4-3-3, the way he played in the middle and sometimes on the left and on the right, he created many problems for them. He was very important for the shape of our team."
Celtic manager Martin O'Neill, whose side equalised twice through Larsson early in the second half before Derlei's winner broke their hearts five minutes from the end of extra time, still had encouragement for his side, the first Celtic team to reach a European final in 33 years, and their fervent supporters. He said: "It is a steep learning curve, but this was a wonderful, wonderful experience. The players put everything into it and the fans have been fantastic."
Larsson, who took his UEFA Cup goal tally for the season to eleven, one less than Derlei, was more openly downbeat, saying: "To come back twice and still lose was unbelievable, but the luck was not on our side. We have just lost one of the biggest games you can play as a professional footballer and I am not very happy at the moment."
Mourinho himself admitted that Celtic proved tough opponents, and Deco certainly made a crucial difference. The loss of Jorge Costa and Costinha to injuries during the match were potentially decisive blows, but, crucially, Deco lasted to the end, to guide Porto's makeshift attack. He concluded: "What I want is to savour this title and think about other things later. The most important thing now is to celebrate." Several thousand Portuguese fans were doing just that as he spoke.