Celtic and Porto ready to make long overdue final appearance

  • Other Sport
  • Wednesday, 21 May 2003

SEVILLE (Spain): Former European champions Celtic and FC Porto will relish their return to the international spotlight when they meet in today's UEFA Cup final at the Estadio Olimpico in Seville. 

The showpiece match in the Andalucian capital will provide both sides a long overdue opportunity for European success, many years after they last appeared in a major final. 

For Celtic, it has been 31 years since they last appeared in an European final. And coach Martin O'Neill believes his new, multinational generation of Celtic stars are ready to write their own chapter in the Scottish champions' proud European history. 

He said his players had to seek inspiration from the legacy of the past, not be overawed by it. 

“We are all aware of the fantastic history this club possesses,” the Northern Irishman said. “Now it’s time to try and do something about it ourselves.” 

For Porto, who should have midfielder Francisco Costinha fit after a thigh injury, victory would also keep them on course for a glorious treble. 

Porto have already wrapped up the Portuguese championship and today's game could see them take the second leg of a treble, with their domestic Cup final to come next month. 

That will give them a slight advantage over Celtic, who are involved in a title race with Rangers that could hardly be any tighter. 

The two great Glasgow rivals will go into the final round of matches level on points, with equal goal difference and with Rangers ahead by virtue of having scored one more goal. 

Celtic have had less welcome injury news going into the game, with Welsh striker John Hartson ruled out with a back problem, but they will nevertheless be confident that this will be the start of a momentous few days that could also bring them the Scottish league title. 

Celtic became the first British club to lift the European Cup in 1967, when their “Lisbon Lions” beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the Portuguese capital.  

The Scottish giants reached the final again in 1970 only to lose to Feyenoord in Milan. 

Porto's night of European glory came in 1987 with victory over Bayern Munich in Vienna. 

Porto coach Jose Mourinho, who has plenty of experience of Spain after working as an assistant for Bobby Robson and then Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, sounded positive in the build-up to the final. 

“We created a dream for the fans in reaching the final,” Mourinho said. 

“A final is a final and anything can happen, but we believe something positive can happen to us.” 

One positive note has been struck with Costinha declaring himself fit for the match. 

The 28-year-old had pulled a thigh muscle in a league game last week but said yesterday:  

“I am fit and expect to play. We all want to win the UEFA Cup for FC Porto.” 

Celtic, meanwhile, will be hit hard by the absence of Hartson, who has scored 18 goals in the league this season, but coach O'Neill can call on one of Europe's deadliest strikers in Sweden's Henrik Larsson, scorer of 28 league goals this term. 

Larsson hit the winner in the semi-final victory away to Boavista that prevented an all-Portuguese final and with the Swede on board Celtic will feel extremely confident. 

“We've played against some very good teams to get to the final and played very well so we have to look at that with confidence,” defender Bobo Balde told Celtic's website ahead of the game. 

“It is a Cup final and we can go out and beat Porto.” 

“It may be another 33 years, you never know. The great thing about it is you embrace the history.  

“Don't be frightened of it. All you can ever do is try and aspire to it,” added O'Neill. – Agencies  

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