It is March 2004 and FC Porto, managed by a sharp, young and up-and-coming Portuguese manager named José Mourinho are pitted against English champions Manchester United.
Mourinho’s Porto finished second in Group F, winning just 3 out of 6 games, scraping a 2-3 win against Marseille and drawing with Partizan Belgrade in the process. Despite their mixed form in the Champions League, they still boasted a technically proficient and balanced side, featuring players that would go on to achieve much success in Europe and beyond, such as Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Maniche, Paulo Ferreira and Costinha.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side however, were Premier League defending champions, had finished top of their Champions League group, winning 5 out of their 6 games, amassing 15 points. When they were drawn in the round of 16 to Porto, few could have predicted what was to happen.
The first leg was played at the Estadio do Dragão and within 14 minutes, Manchester United had taken the lead through Quinton Fortune. Things could had started awfully for the Oporto side. However, they were determined to not stay down for long, equalising through Benni McCarthy some 15 minutes later. Porto continued to pile on the pressure, knowing United’s away goal and the second leg at Old Trafford gave the English side a huge advantage. Alinichev and Nuno Valente repeatedly attacked United’s left hand side, consisting of Quinton Fortune and Ryan Giggs. This constant targeting of the flank paid dividends when in the 78th minute, Valente swung a cross into the box where it was met by a leaping McCarthy who superbly headed home for his second goal of the game. Porto were then given an even greater gift when Roy Keane was sent off 3 minutes from time for maliciously stamping on Vitor Baía.
As the final whistle went, Porto fans celebrated but knew the biggest test, the match at Old Trafford, was still to come.
The match at The Theatre of Dreams was as difficult as expected, with the Portuguese side under constant pressure throughout. Paul Scholes scored a lovely header after half an hour, making it 2-2 on aggregate and looked to be the goal that sent United through on away goals. Then on the stroke of half time, Scholes scored again, however this time it was ruled out incorrectly for offside, Porto had been offered a lifeline. United continued to go forward and looked increasingly comfortable. Cristiano Ronaldo entered the fray from the bench, signalling Ferguson’s attacking intent, but was stretchered off after just eight minutes.
Then, with the game in stoppage time and all but over, Tim Howard failed to deal with a free kick, allowing Costinha to capitalise and score the equaliser which sent Porto through to the next round.
This momentous victory for the Dragons sent shockwaves around Europe and although the international press had been made aware of the job José was doing due to his UEFA Cup triumph the previous year, this unbelievable feat of knocking out a European giant really forced the world to sit up and take note, his side were now performing on the biggest stage, The Champions League.
Porto went on to knock out Lyon and Deportivo before soundly beating Monaco in the final which secured the clubs second champions league title.
Their achievements in Europe that year were nothing short of spectacular and many believe that that night against United in Manchester was the catalyst for the beginning of something special.
Aaron – Próxima Jornada