Porto and Monaco meet on Wednesday to compete in the Champions League final for European football’s top prize.
The two sides, unfancied when the competition began last August have defied the odds to reach the final. Their particiption in tonight’s showpiece event represents a refreshing antidote to some of the more predictable finalists in recent years. Indeed this is the first time since 1991 that a team from Spain, Italy, Germany or England has not contested the final.
In a sport inceasingly dominated by money, the presence of Porto and Monaco confirms that major trophies are not the sole preserve of the wealthy clubs.
Monaco manager Didier Deschamps is happy to see his team portrayed as underdogs – a role which has suited Monaco thus far.
“They (Porto) have the experience – they won the UEFA Cup last season as part of a treble with the Portuguese championship and the Portuguese cup,” he said. ware of Porto’s number 10.
“They have a player in Deco in midfield who can hurt you and make the difference and we will need to pay close attention to him,” he added.
Although Deco is expetced to play an influential role in tonight’s final, his creative talents may be blunted as Porto coach Jose Mourinho looks to keep things tight. Porto are a mightily effective but not always attractive unit and with the stakes so high, the emphasis will be on containment. With only eight goals in all six knockout matches, Porto are renowned for their defensive stability rather than their attacking play.
Monaco, in contrast, possess in Jerome Rothen and Ludovic Giuly. creative players capable of turning any game. Yet, despite their attacking options, supplemented by the ever-dangerous Morientes up-front, Deschamps talked a cautious game on the eve of the final.
‘If you want a spectacular final,’ he said. ‘well there are fewer and fewer of those. There is so much at stake.’
So, the final promises to be a tight encounter, one which could even be decided by penalties.
South African striker Benni McCarthy is not expected to start for Porto as Derle is fit again and will play up front with the promising Brazilian Carlos Alberto. Portuguese playmaker Pedro Mendes will be preferred to Russian Dimitri Alenichev in midfield.
Monaco’s only concern is the fitness of Spanish international striker Fernando Morientes, who has been suffering from an ankle problem but is expected to start.
The final match of the European season could also mark the last games in charge of their repsective clubs for both coaches. Mourinho, 41, has been linked with a move to Chelsea and Liverpool while the 35-year-old Deschamps has been tipped for a switch to Juventus. For men, who have established themselves as the brightest coaching prospects in Europe, there could not be a more fitting finale.
Porto ( Baia; Paulo Ferreira, Valente, Jorge Costa, Carvalho; Costinha, Maniche, Pedro Mendes, Deco; Carlos Alberto and Derlei
Monaco: Roma; Ibarra, Rodr’gues, Squillaci, Evro; Giuly, Bernardi, Zikos, Rothen; Morientes and Prso.
Referee: Kim Milton Neilsen