| Celtic fans enjoy the sun and the city of Seville in Spain Monday. Celtic will face FC Porto in the Uefa Cup final. (Reuters)
Seville: Former European champions Celtic and FC Porto will relish their return to the international spotlight when they meet in Wednesday’s Uefa Cup final at the Estadio Olimpico in Seville.
The showpiece match in the Andalucian capital will provide both sides a long overdue opportunity for European success, many years after they last appeared in a major final. For Porto, who should have midfielder Francisco Costinha fit after a thigh injury, victory would keep them on course for a glorious treble.
Celtic had less welcome injury news going into the game, with Welsh striker John Hartson ruled out with a back problem, but they will nevertheless be confident that this will be the start of a momentous few days that could also bring them the Scottish League title.
Celtic became the first British club to lift the European Cup in 1967, when their “Lisbon Lions” beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the Portuguese capital.
The Scottish giants reached the final again in 1970 only to lose to Feyenoord in Milan.
Porto’s night of European glory came in 1987 with victory over Bayern Munich in Vienna.
Porto have already wrapped up the Portuguese championship and Wednesday’s game could see them take the second leg of a treble, with their domestic Cup final to come next month.
That will give them a slight advantage over Celtic, who are involved in a title race with Rangers that could hardly be any tighter. The two great Glasgow rivals will go into the final round of matches level on points, with equal goal difference and with Rangers ahead by virtue of having scored one more goal.
Porto’s league title triumph gave coach Jose Mourinho the luxury of resting playmaker Deco Souza and striker Derlei Silva for their last game.
Silva will start up front on Wednesday but his regular strike partner Helder Postiga will miss out through suspension after being dismissed in Porto’s semi-final second-leg match in Rome against Lazio.
Mourinho will still have forward options, after Lithuanian striker Edgaras Jankauskas and former international Nuno Capucho scored a goal apiece in Saturday’s 3-2 home win over Varzim.
The coach, who has plenty of experience of Spain after working as an assistant for Bobby Robson and then Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, sounded positive in the build-up to the final.
“We created a dream for the fans in reaching the final,” Mourinho said. “A final is a final and anything can happen, but we believe something positive can happen to us.”
The absence of Hartson, who has scored 18 goals in the league this season, will hit Celtic hard but coach Martin O’Neill can call on one of Europe’s deadliest strikers in Sweden’s Henrik Larsson, scorer of 28 league goals this term. Larsson hit the winner in the semi-final victory away to Boavista that prevented an all-Portuguese final and with the Swede on board Celtic will feel extremely confident.
“We’ve played against some very good teams to get to the final and played very well so we have to look at that with confidence,” said defender Bobo Balde. “It is a cup final and we can go out and beat Porto.”
Celtic: 20-Robert Douglas; 5-Joos Valgaeren, 6-Bobo Balde, 35-Johann Mjallby, 17-Didier Agathe, 18-Neil Lennon, 14-Paul Lambert, 19-Stilian Petrov, 8-Alan Thompson, 29-Shaun Maloney or 9-Chris Sutton, 7-Henrik Larsson.
FC Porto: 99-Vitor Baia; 22-Paulo Ferreira, 2-Jorge Costa, 4-Ricardo Carvalho, 8-Nuno Valente; 6-Francisco Costinha, 15-Dmitri Alenitchev, 10-Deco Souza, 18-Maniche Ribeiro; 9-Edgaras Jankauskas; 11-Derlei Silva.
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)