Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill must overcome a nemesis from the past this evening to set up a showpiece Peace Cup final with Real Madrid or Juventus in Seville on Sunday.
Porto, the conquers of O’Neill’s Celtic team in the 2003 Uefa Cup final, are all that stand between Villa and Sunday’s grand climax of the pre-season tournament in Spain.
Villa kick off against the Portuguese giants at La Rosaleda in Malaga at 7.30pm British time with the second semi-final between Madrid and Juventus taking place two hours later.
O’Neill’s creaking squad will be without influential midfielder and captain elect Stiliyan Petrov who departed Villa’s Malaga training base yesterday to return home for treatment on his dislocated shoulder.
However, O’Neill, who is still meeting with frustration in his bid to bolster his playing staff, is looking forward to this evening’s encounter with excitement rather than concern.
The Villa manager believes the Porto game will provide big-match experience for his young players as well as rewarding supporters for their backing during the competition.
“There are couple of huge positives about the game,” said O’Neill. “We are still in the tournament and the performance yesterday proved we were not willing to exit the Peace Cup with a whimper. It also meant we are now playing a team in Porto who will provide us with an even stronger test.
“Of course I remember vividly the last time I managed a team against them. It was in Seville at the Uefa Cup final in 2003. I have also managed Celtic against them in Champions League.
“Porto are a strong team, well run and they manage to sell a player almost every year for a large sum of money and then restructure the team without losing any of their power.
“They were unlucky to lose to Manchester United in last season’s Champions League quarter finals after drawing 2-2 at Old Trafford and they will once again be a threat in that tournament this season. They have great contacts in South America and seem to be able to bring in Brazilian players regularly without encountering problems with work permits or visas.
“The game will give a chance to some of our younger players to build their experience and will also let the dedicated group of Villa fans who cheered us on to victory over Atlante to watch another game here in Spain.”
Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso will be involved in a final of his own on Sunday after firing England’s under-19s to a European Championships semi-final victory over France yesterday.
Delfouneso, whose involvement in the tournament is a source of irritation to O’Neill, who would have preferred the teenager to be with Villa, scored twice in the extra-time 3-1 win.
England will face either Serbia or hosts Ukraine in the final.