Heartbreak for Larsson as Celtic falls short

A SLOW burning UEFA Cup final reached a thrilling climax in Seville as Celtic lost to FC Porto in extra time.


The jubilant FC Porto team with the UEFA Cup. — Pic. CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES-

A SLOW burning UEFA Cup final reached a thrilling climax in Seville as Celtic lost to FC Porto in extra time.

After a first half where tempers rather than technique were the talking point, the second half burst into life with Celtic showing the spirit that had taken them this far by twice coming from behind.

If Deco was the game's most skilful player, Henrik Larsson again underlined his predatorial instincts with his 43rd and 44th goals of the season, causing a suspect Porto defence anxious moments in the air and on the ground.

Man for man, the Portuguese champions may have been superior but Celtic's drive, passion and never-say-die attitude with outstanding individuals such as Larsson and Didier Agathe made them a match for Jose Mourinho's side.

However, after Bobo Balde's sending off in the first period of extra time, Porto went ahead through Vanderlei Derlei in the 115th minute and Celtic were powerless to respond.

The atmosphere inside the Estadio Olimpico as the game started was as good as it gets - noise without nastiness, passion without punch-ups. It was also an Andalucian Celtic Park as the majority of spectators were clad in green and white, albeit with painfully pink skin.

One Irish bar sold 300 barrels of beer and had been frantically trying to obtain another 200 to satisfy the thirst of supporters parched from the near 100-degree heat.

The world of showbusiness was represented by, among others, singer Rod Stewart, who flew from Los Angeles on a private jet, while comedian Billy Connolly travelled from nearby Jerez with former Sunderland manager Howard Wilkinson, one of the more unlikely twosomes in Seville.

The double act on the pitch, which had green sawdust sprinkled over bare patches, had reached the final from a competition involving 146 teams.

Both had seemed unlikely participants last autumn. Celtic had defied the odds to overcome Blackburn, Celta Vigo, Liverpool and Boavista. FC Porto, which had just clinched its 19th Portuguese title on the back of a 27-week unbeaten run, had been expected to struggle with many tipping it to finish behind Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Boavista.

Although the supporters behaved themselves, the early stages were marked by heavy challenges from both sides. Joos Valgaeren was the first cautioned for a lunge at Deco.

When the over-physical side subsided, Porto began to show its class with Deco impressing in midfield. It was superior in technique but looked vulnerable to crosses into its area.

In the 22nd minute, Larsson, who had been fouled by Maniche, tested Vitor Baia with a well struck, low free-kick from 25 yards. Deco was causing problems with his close control and tricky footwork and set up the opening goal at the end of a mediocre first half.

After Deco's cross, Rab Douglas did well to parry Alenichev's initial fiercely struck shot from 10 yards but Derlei pounced on the rebound.

Tempers rose again as the players made for the tunnel with an unsightly bout of pushing and shoving involving coaches, too, which was sparked by Derlei unsportingly kicking the ball at Agathe's stomach.

Within two minutes of the restart, which had been delayed by a streaker, Celtic was level when Larsson exploited Porto's frailty in the air. From Agathe's deep cross from the right, Larsson, on the far post, sent a looping header over Baia for his 200th goal for the club.

The joy was shortlived, however, because in the 54th minute Deco beat two opponents to set up the chance for Alenichev to steer the ball past Douglas from 12 yards. But two minutes later Larsson made it 2-2 when dreadful marking gave him a free header from Alan Thompson's corner. The second half was proving to be as exciting as the opening 45 minutes were tedious with the game played at a remarkable pace given the heat.

The teams:

Celtic: Douglas; Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren (Laursen 65); Agathe, Petrov (Maloney 104), Lambert (McNamara 76), Lennon, Thompson; Sutton, Larsson. Subs: Hedman (g), Sylla, Fernandez, Smith. Booked: Valgaeren, Lennon, Balde, Petrov. Sent off: Balde.

FC Porto: Vitor Baia; Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa (Pedro Emanuel 71), Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente; Costinha (Ricardo Costa 9); Deco, Capucho, Maniche; Derlei, Alenichev. Subs: Nuno, Peixoto, Clayton, Tiago, Marco Ferreira. Booked: Nuno Valente, Ferreira. Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).

Copyright, The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003