Not-so-vintage Porto claim Europa glory
Portuguese men of bore? Here were two teams too familiar with each other to supply Dublin with a footballing classic.
Despite a night of considerable colour and fervour, this will surely not live in the Irish memory as long as the visit of Queen Elizabeth or, next week, President Obama. However, those returning to Oporto will still cherish a victory completed with too little to spare for comfort. The considerable fighting spirit shown by Braga will be remembered by their supporters too. Porto, for all their domestic dominance, never looked like putting their opponents away, and suffered a nervy match as a result. Braga just did not possess the class to take this game into extra time.
It had been Portugal's big night out, though the stadium was by no means full at 45,000. Those Manchester City, Liverpool and Rangers fans who had taken a chance and booked seats and flights in advance had staged no-shows. A couple of groups of fans of both of those English clubs were present, though unsurprisingly, the Light Blues of Glasgow had eschewed the chance to be in Dublin. While not colonising the city centre in the fashion the British might have done - though Her Majesty has staged a couple of temporary coups to halt an entire traffic system - Portuguese fans travelled in admirable droves considering their country, like Ireland, is wracked in economic difficulty.
A league gaining credence as the best production line in European football, especially as a halfway house for South American talent, Portugal now also has a reputation as a coaching farm, with both Andre Villas-Boas and Domingos Paciencia linked this season with the continent's elite. That Domingos was coaching his Braga team for the last time before he departs for Sporting Lisbon is no secret, while Villas-Boas had pledged to stay on at Porto, and fight on in the Champions League, though he has already dampened the expectation that he can emulate Jose Mourinho's golden team in following success in this competition with a crowning as European champions the very next year. Since 2004, and that victory in Gelsenkirchen, Europe's superpowers have tightened their grip through economic means and this competition, oft-mocked and lengthy as it is, now provides the second tier of Euro football nations with their best chance of continental glory.
In its earliest stages, this game was often played at a walking pace familiar to connossieurs of the Superliga, with rapidly-launched attacks the prime weapon after the stodginess of a packed midfield had been negotiated. A first half full of caginess had looked to be petering towards a parity that perhaps flattered Braga before a superb crossed pass from Fredy Guarin found Falcao in the box to nod home with a minute to go until the break. The Colombian made no mistake.
Falcao's goal power this season - an amazing 17 in this competition represents a record - has made him one of those players keenly eyed by the continent's giants, as part of a Porto policy which sells leading players on only to replenish the squad through a scouting system that has paid for itself many times over. The likes of Hulk, quiet here after a keen start, and Falcao can eventually pay for the next generation when they are cashed in, just as 2004's team did for their successors. Though for the moment, Villas-Boas expects to keep both stars, just as he will remain.
Braga never quite looked as if they would be capable of adding their name to Portugal's roll-call of European winners, and must content themselves with the not inconsiderable achievement of reaching this final. A European campaign that began with the surprise defeat of Sevilla in a Champions League qualifier has also seen them add the scalps of Arsenal, Liverpool, Dynamo Kiev and, most gloriously of all, Benfica. It has supplied their fans with the most exciting season of their lifetimes.
A chance for Mossoro with the very first action of the second half was their moment of truth. On for Hugo Viana in a half-time switch, the Brazilian's very first sniff of the ball was to find himself clean through with only Helton to beat. Perhaps the chill of the Irish air made his finish so sluggish but it was as good as it would get for Braga. A similar chance at a similar juncture of the first 45 had been blown when Custodio smashed wide after four minutes as Porto's statuesque defending allowed him time and space. Domingos, taking his leave of a club he said he was proud to have coached but never mentioning his destination, bemoaned those lost opportunities.
"The difference lies in small details," Domingos said. "The match had three or four moments - the goal from Falcao, and then Mossoro could have equalised and everything could have changed."
Porto now have the chance to show off their wares on a grander stage than this, and they are a club of undoubted pedigree. Despite the regularity of big-name departures, their strategy has now delivered three major European trophies in eight years. Last season's relative failure in third place now looks a boon in forcing them to turn to Villas-Boas. His victory here has made Porto a club with as many European honours as Manchester United. And more importantly for Porto fans, they now outstrip Benfica's achievements by two trophies, while Sporting languish on one lone Cup Winners' Cup triumph. On a personal level, though he refused to acknowledge it as anything particularly special, Villas-Boas had become the youngest coach to lead a team to a European trophy.
He dedicated the night to a raft of people, including his family, and both Pep Guardiola and Mourinho, before delivering a heartfelt tribute to the memory of Sir Bobby Robson. He then apologised for not delivering "a better spectacle".
"We have to regret the spectacle was not up to Portuguese standards," said a man who can no longer be regarded as a young pretender. "It was a pity that both teams were unable to display themselves to the fullest."
On the night of his greatest triumph yet, but of considerable disappointment in terms of entertainment, such honesty was appreciated. And though he stated he wanted his career to last just "ten-twelve years more - this is very stressful", we will be hearing plenty more from him during that time.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Freddy Guarin. For his supplying of the game's only notable moment of class, a wonderfully-struck crossed diagonal from which Falcao headed home in customary style, the Colombian must get the plaudits. He also showed considerable energy in midfield, and outperformed Joao Moutinho, before being withdrawn with 25 minutes to play.
PORTO VERDICT: On this evidence, and as their coach has admitted, this is not a team to match the Jose Mourinho model of the last decade. However, they made it clear why they have made themselves so hard to beat, and Falcao's goal provided a glimpse of their ability to take key chances when presented to them.
BRAGA VERDICT: A manful effort in the second half showed off the fighting qualities that had got them this far after they had hung on somewhat in the first period. If only they had taken those two chances at the beginning of each half. Then perhaps we would have seen a far better game.