Europa League: Porto talents in the spotlight, both on the pitch and in the dug-out
An all-Portuguese affair may not whet British appetites as much as the other big Iberian match-up this season, but tonight's Europa League final between Porto and Sporting Braga should provide better viewing than the recent Champions League Clasicos.
The Dublin tie has much else of interest, from the prospect of the "new Mourinho" becoming the youngest coach to lift a European trophy to the likelihood of some of its combatants appearing in the Premier League next season.
Chief among these are Porto strikers Hulk and Falcao. The Brazilian Hulk, who has scored 34 goals this season, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Falcao, a Colombian whose 16 European goals this season broke Jurgen Klinsmann's record, is reportedly on the radar of Arsenal, Aston Villa and Tottenham, among others. Then there is Porto midfielder Joao Moutinho, a long-time Everton target, and Braga's fleet-footed Brazilian winger Alan.
While Premier League managers tune in to look at those players, several chairmen and owners will be studying Porto's technical area. Andre Villas Boas began his managerial career scouting opponents for Mourinho, a role he performed at Chelsea. Last season, the 33-year-old struck out on his own, with spectacular success. After saving Coimbra from relegation he moved to Porto and has subsequently lost one match in the domestic arena, the final of the Portuguese Cup, to Benfica. Porto took the league title by 21 points and won the Super Cup. Victory tonight will eclipse the record held by Gianluca Vialli, who was 95 days older when steering Chelsea to European Cup-winners' Cup success in 1998. It will also ape Mourinho, who came to attention when Porto beat Celtic in the 2003 Uefa Cup final.
Porto are hot favourites. Braga's only honour is the Portuguese Cup in 1966; Porto have won the European Cup twice, the Uefa Cup, and the Portuguese league 25 times. This season they finished 38 points clear of Braga. However, Braga are a potent counter-attacking side with Hugo Viana, once of Newcastle, in a midfield whose task is to feed the pace of Alan and Lima. Although they lost 6-0 at the Emirates they beat Arsenal 2-0 at home. Braga, whose coach Domingos Paciencia spent many years playing for Porto, also knocked Celtic and Liverpool out of Europe this season.
This is the 14th one-nation European final. The dominant influence will, though, be South American with 13 likely starters from that continent – including nine Brazilians – to seven Portuguese. Despite the ongoing financial crisis in both Ireland and Portugal Uefa says the game is nearly sold out.
Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Sapunaru, Rolando, Maicon, Alvaro Pereira; Guarin, Fernando, Moutinho; Hulk, Falcao, Varela.
Braga (4-4-2): Artur; Garcia, Rodriguez, Paulao, Silvio; Alan, Vandinho, Custodio, Viana; Lima, Meyong.
Referee C Velasco Carballo (Spain).
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