Europa League Classics: Celtic 2-3 Porto
Thursday, 4 June 2020
Read this before watching the thrilling 2003 UEFA Cup final on UEFA.tv.
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Two former European champions met in the 2003 UEFA Cup decider in Seville; could new coach José Mourinho end his first season at Porto with a Liga, Portuguese Cup and UEFA Cup treble?
As Porto looked to win their first major European trophy in 16 years, their 40-year-old coach Mourinho did not feel the pressure of the occasion. "I'm cherishing every moment," he said. "I think I feel less pressure ahead of this match than ahead of any other match." Dreaming of their first UEFA honour since the Lisbon Lions' 1967 European Cup triumph, Celtic brought 80,000 fans to Seville and their knockout round scalps – Celta Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool, Boavista – suggested Martin O’Neill’s side had more than a fighting chance.
Deco: Not quick, tall or particularly strong, Deco's ball control and stunning passing range made him the midfield fulcrum of Mourinho's Porto. Unrecognised in his native Brazil, he chose to play senior football for Portugal in 2003.
Henrik Larsson: Fast, smart and incredibly good in the air for a 1.75m-tall forward, the Swedish star remains the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League's all-time top scorer with 40 goals – including nine on the way to the 2003 final.
Derlei: The 27-year-old attacker followed Mourinho when he left Leiria for Porto in 2002, and his career swiftly went from low-key to high-profile. Approaching the final, he was the 2002/03 UEFA Cup's lead marksman with ten goals.
In stifling conditions in Seville, Porto went ahead just before the interval, Derlei tidying up after Rab Douglas had saved Dmitri Alenichev's effort. Celtic responded soon after the break, Larsson looping a header over Vítor Baia, but Mourinho's men were back in front within seven minutes, Deco's exquisite angled through ball presenting Alenichev with the easiest of chances.
Larsson levelled again – a header from Alan Thompson's corner – on 57 minutes, and the tie settled down thereafter, neither team willing to commit too much. Alenichev missed a great opportunity to clinch it before the game went to extra time. Here, Celtic defended stoutly even after Dianbobo Baldé's dismissal, but could not prevent a Douglas block on 115 minutes falling to Derlei, who finished to win the trophy for Porto.
Vítor Baia, Porto goalkeeper: "The emotion in that final was indescribable. It was a hurricane of emotions. Those last five minutes were the hardest five minutes of my life because we knew they would try to get an equaliser. We knew they would try a more direct strategy. My mind was only thinking: 'This is my time, this is our moment.' I had won the Cup Winners' Cup with Barcelona, but [the UEFA Cup with Porto] was a dream for me and my team-mates. When we did it, it was the happiest day of our lives."
Jorge Costa, Porto defender: "It was the most meaningful trophy of my career, because it was the first and also because of the atmosphere. It was in Seville so transport for family and friends was easier. Loads of cars full of people and more fans. The atmosphere before the match and upon arrival at the stadium was a blue sea, a green sea. Amazing. The match itself – the emotion, the result and the victory."
Henrik Larsson, Celtic forward: "To come back twice and still lose was unbelievable, but 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."
Elsewhere that night
Four UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifiers took place that day. In Germany, Belgium edged Slovakia 1-0 while the hosts lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic; in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland ran out 3-2 winners against Switzerland, and England beat Slovenia 3-0.
As they completed a stunning treble, Porto may have thought things could not get any better, but if anything 2003/04 was even more spectacular for the Dragons, because they retained their league title and won the UEFA Champions League. Deco was Man of the Match as they overcame Monaco 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen, and promptly left for Barcelona that summer – when Mourinho also took on a new assignment with Chelsea.
The Hoops, meanwhile, set a Scottish record in 2003/04, bagging an unprecedented 105 goals as they cruised to league title glory – 30 of them being scored by Larsson, who subsequently linked up with Deco at Barcelona from summer 2004. The Swede was voted into Celtic's all-time best XI in 2002 and was named their all-time best foreign player in the same poll.