O'Neill fears the effect of heatwave

Uefa Cup final: Unseasonable temperatures concern manager as Celtic look to end European drought against Porto tonight

Celtic's history, according to the song their supporters have exported to a thousand bars in this steamy corner of southern Spain, is enough to make your heart glow. Martin O'Neill concedes, however, that the chapter headed "Success in Europe" is in serious need of updating, which is why tonight's Uefa Cup final against Porto has assumed a significance beyond giving Celtic the chance to become the competition's first Scottish winners.

O'Neill, an oasis of calm yesterday amid the clamour generated by the insertion of 80,000 Scots into an Andalucian heat wave, understands the powerful pull of the past in Celtic's affairs. Working daily alongside John Clark, part of Jock Stein's European Cup-winning side of 1967 and now the club's kit controller, he could not ignore it even if he wanted.

During the build-up to the Champions' League final of four years ago, Alex Ferguson donned an old Manchester United top in homage to the era of Best, Law and Charlton. O'Neill will not make so literal a connection, though as one who has been steeped in the lore of Celtic since his childhood in Northern Ireland he could hardly deny its importance.

"We're aware of the fantastic history this club possesses," the Celtic manager said. "Now it's time to do something ourselves. It's 33 years since we were in a European final, and that's a long time. You never know, it may be another three decades before we get to one again. We must embrace the history, not be frightened of it."

The only fear to which O'Neill admitted - he actually described it as "an obvious concern" - centred not a pitch with more long, brown grass and dry, rutted patches than one would have expected for such a game, but on the searing heat currently besetting Seville.

The temperature reached as high as 95F yesterday afternoon, and O'Neill recalled the lung-bursting effort required of him and his compatriots in the Spanish World Cup of 1982. For that reason this game might start "cagily", he argued, while repeatedly declaring how delighted Celtic were simply to be involved.

The latter sentiment should not be confused with being there to make up the numbers. Celtic are here to win, and those who believe Porto's 4-1 thrashing of Lazio in the first leg of their semi-final makes them clear favourites do the Glasgow club a disservice. Throughout their run to the final, they have shown how much they have learned from a chastening Champions' League experience last season, when they lost all three away fixtures.

This time, Celtic have won four times in six away games, with Blackburn and Liverpool among their victims. Even when they lost, in Stuttgart and Vigo, they scored decisive away goals. In Europe, they have defended less riskily and attacked more intelligently, attributes that will worry Porto and their coach, Jose Mourinho, as much as the qualities of the Portuguese champions will concern O'Neill and his aides.

So it is a far more experienced, and accomplished side, that will wear the hoops. Besides, being underdogs seems to suit the Celtic psyche. Since their Lithuanian cakewalk in the first round, the only tie they were expected to win was the one in which they played their poorest football, namely the semi-final against Porto's city rivals Boavista.

O'Neill is a firm, if not inflexible, adherent of the 3-5-2 formation, while Porto often deploy three attackers, spearheaded by the Brazilian, Derlei. In the manager's mind will be the way Celtic's back three were torn apart in Oporto 18 months ago - when, by common consent, Porto were not the force that they have become under Mourinho.

Celtic may, therefore, go for four at the back, as they did when winning at Rangers last month. The likelier option is that the captain, Paul Lambert, will sit deep in midfield, with the wing-backs, Didier Agathe and Alan Thompson, concentrating on the defensive half of their job description, at least until it is clear what Porto have to offer. Intriguingly, O'Neill may well trust in the exact XI that were trounced in the last meeting.

In the 10-goal Derlei, Mourinho not only has the tournament's top scorer but also part of a formidable spine to his side. In goal, Vitor Baia brings agility and experience; at centre-back, Jorge Costa is a rugged competitor, as evinced by his loan spell at Charlton Athletic.

Yet in Henrik Larsson, Celtic have a match-winner as ruthless as any. With nine Uefa Cup goals he was surely uppermost in O'Neill's mind when he spoke of having "players who can turn a game". With the Swede standing on 199 goals since arriving at Parkhead, and Celtic needing one win to make it 100 in Europe, it is tempting to suggest the script is already written. "I'll believe it only if those things come to fruition," O'Neill said.

He may not subscribe to the influence of destiny or fate, but would not it be an advantage, a Portuguese journalist asked, to have 40,000 supporters in and around the Olympic Stadium? "I think you've got the wrong number," came a mock-reproachful reply. "It's 140,000. There are very few Celtic fans left in Glasgow at the moment."

However many it is, their presence may look like an affirmation of belief. In truth, it is in disbelief - in Celtic's participation in such auspicious occasions after the dark days of the early 1990s when extinction seemed a more plausible prospect - that they are celebrating.

If they are still rejoicing come the final whistle, the glow from their hearts will be seen back in Glasgow.

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