Porto believe momentum keeps title defence alive

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The Independent Football

Despite their 1-1 home draw with Internazionale on Wednesday, the defending European champions, Porto, are optimistic that they are on course to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions' League.

"The result of the game is not what we expected, but our hopes remain intact," the Porto striker Benni McCarthy said. "The second leg will be complicated, but we can win in Italy, like we did this season in Moscow against CSKA."

The home side, without their suspended captain, Jorge Costa, in defence and the Brazilian playmaker Diego, made a number of errors in the first half and were unable to organise their attacks. Inter went ahead in the 24th minute when Dejan Stankovic broke into the box from the left, slipped by two defenders and crossed low past the goalkeeper Vitor Baia for fellow striker Obafemi Martins, unmarked, to turn the ball into an empty net.

In the second half, Porto's new coach, Jose Couceiro, who was making his debut in European competition, managed to inject more attacking power into the team, who then pushed the Italian side on to the back foot.

Porto equalised just after the hour when the Internazionale goalkeeper Francesco Toldo missed a high cross to the far post. Costinha played the ball back into the middle and Costa blasted it home from one yard out.

"If we had lost it would be much more complicated," Costa said. "The draw leaves things open for the second leg and in Milan we can win. They scored here, we can score there."

Porto's Nuno Valente, who ended a five-month injury layoff, was also confident.

"It was a shame that we did not win, but we have all the momentum to go forward and we are going to Milan to win," he said.

After their equaliser, Porto squandered several chances to inflict on Inter their first defeat in 38 domestic and international games this season as attempts by Maniche and the South African forwardMcCarthy went wide.

Baia marked his 100th match in European competition with an outstanding performance. He made two vital saves in the final minutes, first at the feet of the substitute striker Christian Vieri and then turning away a powerful shot by Stankovic.

"Vitor Baia was really good and prevented the second goal," the Inter coach, Roberto Mancini, said. "FC Porto are not just any adversary. They're an excellent team. It's true that we could have settled things in the first half, which we couldn't do, but even so it was a good result.

He added: "We played very well, and we had several opportunities to win near the end."

His Porto counterpart, Couceiro, said he had believed all along that the outcome would be determined in Milan, not Porto.

"At this moment we are at a disadvantage, but we have the conditions to win in Italy," he said. "At half-time, Inter had the advantage, but I think that we had possibilities for a win. All will be decided in Milan, where we can win," said Couceiro.

"We started the game in acceptable form, but we committed a defensive error in an area in which we knew that Inter are very strong," he said. "We played more with our heart than our head."