Monaco depend on Morientes to grasp the biggest prize

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The Independent Football

This season's Champions' League climax may no longer be a final eliminator for the honour of becoming Chelsea's next manager, as their courting of Porto's Jose Mourinho appears too advanced to switch horses and Monaco's Didier Deschamps seems bound for Juventus in any event, but it still has a freakish air.

This season's Champions' League climax may no longer be a final eliminator for the honour of becoming Chelsea's next manager, as their courting of Porto's Jose Mourinho appears too advanced to switch horses and Monaco's Didier Deschamps seems bound for Juventus in any event, but it still has a freakish air.

It is not that the match's stars are the coaches, nor that it is being played on the AufSchalke's movable pitch, it is that this is the first European Cup final in 13 seasons, before the Champions' League concept began, and only the third since 1971, not to feature a Spanish, Italian, German or English club. To the chagrin of sponsors and television companies alike the Portuguese and French have stolen the stage.

It is a temporary heist. That both coaches are off to fresh pastures, a first in the competition's 49-year history, confirms the sense that this is a one-off. Porto, unlike Monaco, may have been here before, winning in 1987, but that was before the competition's expansion. The domination of the major leagues is now too entrenched, their clubs' financial muscle too powerful, for this uprising of the Continent's middle classes to be sustained.

This is underlined by the imminent exodus of players ­ for it is not just the coaches who are cashing in. Mourinho is expected to take several players with him to Chelsea where they are likely be joined by Monaco's inspiration, Fernando Morientes. His striking partner Dado Prso has signed for Rangers while Ludovic Giuly and Jerome Rothen are among others considering offers. The lengthy odds against these clubs at the start of this season's group stages ­ Porto were 40-1, Monaco 80-1 ­ will be repeated next season.

Carpe Diem should therefore be the abiding principle tonight. Seize the day and bank the memory for eternity. There will not be a second chance. This, unfortunately, is as likely to produce a sterile match as a thriller ­ not that last year's final, between the aristocrats Juventus and Milan, pleased anyone except purists.

Monaco surfed to the final on a wave of goals, 27 in 12 games including five each against Chelsea and Real Madrid, but Porto grafted their way in. The defeat of Manchester United had its thrills but the only goal in two legs of a stifling semi-final with Deportivo La Coruña was a penalty.

Mourinho promised he wanted "to show the world that outsiders are capable of playing well" but admitted he was "not saying I'll have an open door policy and try to win 5-4". He said last year's Uefa Cup final victory over Celtic was proof of his team's attacking intent ­ "a beautiful game" ­ but Glasgow remembers only a team which dived and writhed to victory. Celtic were physical but Mourinho's Porto are pragmatists first, romantics second.

"They are a very compact team who play aggressively and are very good at not letting their opponents play the way they want to," said Deschamps of Porto. "We will be playing to win but finals are seldom spectacular because there's so much at stake and everyone is concentrating on not making mistakes."

At 35 Deschamps will be the youngest manager to win the Champions' League if Monaco prevail. He has worries about Morientes and Prso, who have both been injured, and the fitness of Morientes may decide the tie. A season-long loan signing from Real Madrid, with whom he won this competition three times, he has been the competition's central figure. His goals knocked out both Real, who still subsidise his wages, and Chelsea. "Without him we would not be here," said Deschamps. "With all his experience he joined a young team and he did it with humility. He's a world class player who scores decisive goals and he's valuable to the team on and off the pitch. His presence alone is reassuring for the other players."

Porto's talisman is Deco, the naturalised Brazilian playmaker. "It will be important to limit his influence," said Deschamps. "That's Deschamps' job," responded Mourinho, "mine is to find a way for Deco to play to his full potential."

Both teams are in fitful form. Monaco slipped out of the domestic running as their Champions' League campaign progressed, finishing third behind Lyon and Paris St-Germain. Porto already had their title sewn up but lost in the Portuguese cup final to Benfica last week to end their hopes of a treble. Victory tonight would provide a glorious preamble for the hosting of Euro 2004 and the Portuguese prime minister has put off a state visit to Mexico to attend. Kim Milton Nielsen, David Beckham's old antagonist at France '98, is the referee.

Deschamps, who played in five finals, winning two of them, added: "I think it will start off as a very tactical match and the difference will be in the fine detail. Perhaps someone will take a risk and it will come off, or someone will make a mistake and the other side will take advantage."

Mourinho concurred, adding: "We cannot surprise them, they cannot surprise us. Both teams are too well prepared."

Neutrals will hope the individual talents on view disprove this assessment. The coaches dominated the build-up; the match, as Deschamps said, "is about the players. It's their match, their history".

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