Celtic travel to Portugal tonight to play Boavista in the second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final.
The tie remains finely poised after a 1-1 draw at Parkheadbut Boavista’s away goal makes them slight favourites to reach the final.
Goalkeeper Ricardo was the hero for Boavista in thatgame, saving a penalty late on from Henrik Larsson.
Celtic go into the game looking to salvage their season. In the past month they have lost touch with Rangers at the top of the league, lost in the League Cup Final and lost embarrassingly to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup.
Boavista’s recent form is even worse, however, and they currently languish down in thirteenth place in their domestic league and are not safe from relegation.
They have not won in five games as they appproach arguably one of the biggest games in their history. It is the club’s centenary year and coach Jamie Pacheco has stressed the importance of the game.
“We have never been in the final of a European tournament,” he said.
‘It is the most important game for the club and possibly the game of our lives.’
Pacheco is also disappointed with UEFA’s choice of referee for tonight’s game. Russia’s Valetin Ivanov, whose controversial decision to disallow a Boavista goal in a game against Auxerre earlier this season, cost Boavitsa their place in the Champion’s League.
“The referee made some bad mistakes in that game,” notedPacheco.
“He must make sure he does not do the same again.’
Celtic boss Martin O’Neil is delighted that his side has got this far, but admits they go into the game as underdogs and will have to repeat the performances of previous rounds if they are going to progress.
“It’s great to be here on a glorious April evening and we’re involved in a semi-final of the UEFA Cup,” O’Neill said.
“The lads are very upbeat and looking forward to the game – they are bound to be – and they are as upbeat as I want them to be.”
“This will be a difficult game without a doubt. Boavista have proved themselves to be a very formidable team, but we are in the same position that we were in the quarter-final against Liverpool.
“It is a big obstacle. Boavista are the favourites to go through having scored away from home, but we are capable of doing it again.”
Celtic have been boosted by the return to the squad of Chris Sutton for the first time in a month. Petrov and Bobby Petta have also been passed fit.
For Boavista, Nuno Frechaut and Jorge Silva are injured, while striker Martelinho faces a fitness test. Defender Paulo Turra is suspended.
Turra hasspent the build up to the game playing down the threat posed by Celtics star man Henrik Larsson. He believes he is not as good as some people make out.
“Larsson is a good striker,” said Turra, “but I see faults in his game. I would not change him for any of our forwards.”
Fernando Avalos believes his side will progress to the final.
“I am confident because we know how to play against Celtic tonight,” he says.
“The hard job was done in Glasgow. We knew that our chances of reaching the final depended on scoring in the first game.”
The winners of the tie will go on to play Porto or Lazio in the final. Porto lookthe most likely to progress, holding a 4-1 advantage over the Italians.
Boavista: Ricardo; Oscar, Couto, Eder, Loja; Avalos, Pedrosa, Anunciacao, Erivam; Duda, Silva.
Celtic: Douglas; Vlagaeren, Balde, Mjallby; Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Lambert, Thompson; Hartson, Larsson.