Let’s rewind to March 2004. FC Porto, managed by a sharp, charismatic young Portuguese manager named José Mourinho, are pitted against Premier League champions Manchester United.
Mourinho’s Porto finished second in Group F behind Real Madrid, winning three of their six matches and losing just once. Os Dragões boasted a disciplined, technically proficient and balanced side with talented players such as Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Maniche, Paulo Ferreira and Costinha.
The Red Devils finished top of their Champions League group, winning five of their six games. Few could have predicted what was to happen when the two sides were drawn against one another in the round of 16.
The first leg was played at the Estádio do Dragão and within 14 minutes, Manchester United had taken the lead through Quinton Fortune. José Mourinho’s side responded brilliantly, equalising through Benni McCarthy just 15 minutes later. Porto continued to pile on the pressure, knowing United’s away goal and the second leg being at Old Trafford gave the English side a huge advantage. Alinichev and Nuno Valente repeatedly targeted United’s right-hand side, Porto’s insistence on playing down the left flank paid dividends when in the 78th minute, Valente swung a cross into the box where it was met by a leaping McCarthy who rifled home a header for his second goal of the game. Things went even further in Porto’s favour when United midfielder Roy Keane was sent off 3 minutes from time for a malicious stamp on Vitor Baía.
The final whistle went to a raucous cheer from the Porto faithful, it was a magnificent victory but Mourinho knew the most significant test was still to come.
In the second leg at The Theatre of Dreams, Porto were put under constant pressure starting from the first whistle. Midfield maestro Paul Scholes scored a lovely header after half an hour, levelling things on aggregate and giving United the advantage on away goals. Then, on the stroke of half time, Scholes scored again. Porto though were thrown a lifeline when the goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside. United were furious but Porto didn’t care. Ferguson’s side continued to push forward, completely dominating the ball and they had set up camp in Porto’s half. Former Sporting winger 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, Porto had a free kick. Tim Howard failed to deal with Benni McCarthy’s attempt, allowing Costinha to pounce and score the equaliser which sent Porto through to the next round. Manager José Mourinho embarked on his now-famous sprint down the touchline, leaping in the air and pumping his fists, he knew his side had done something special.
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, this young silver-tongued manager’s side were now performing on the biggest stage, in the UEFA Champions League.
Porto went on to knock out Lyon and Deportivo la Coruña before soundly beating AS Monaco 3-0 in the final to secure the club’s second Champions League title.