Liverpool might enter tomorrow night’s Champions League Round of 16 tie as favorites against FC Porto, but don’t be fooled, this is a side with real European Pedigree™.
In fact, we can find many similarities between the two clubs, from their European distinction, to their second-most domestic titles, right back to their founding. The two-time European Champions were founded just one year after Liverpool sent the Toffees packing, in 1893. Just as Liverpool’s founder, John Houlding made his money in alcohol, as a local brewery owner, Porto’s founder, António Nicolau de Almeida, was a local port wine merchant. It takes a certain amount of liquid courage to start a great football club, and this is a common theme we’ve seen over, and over again in this series. Almeida was inspired to start the club after a trip to England, as was José Monteiro da Costa, who, in 1906 took the reins and revived the club after several years of inactivity.
Up until the 1921-22 season, football remained a regional affair in Portugal. That changed with the creation of Campeonato de Portugal, the competition that would become the Taça de Portugal, Portugal’s cup competition and first national championship. Confidence was high for Porto, having won four consecutive regional championships, and that confidence propelled them to capture the inaugural Campeonato de Portugal, defeating Sporting CP (6-4 aggregate, over three legs and extra time) to become the first Portuguese national champions.
In 1934-35, Portugal established the Campeonato da Primeira Liga, the competition that would become their top flight, and official national championship in 1938-39. As with the cup competition, Porto won the inaugural season of the competition, and again the first two seasons once the competition became the official championship series in Portugal. All told domestically, Porto has the second most league titles, 27 to Benfica’s 36, 20 cups, and 20 supercups.
This is all well and good, but it is really in Europe where Porto has distinguished itself from its Lisbon-based rivals, especially in recent decades. Porto has two European Cups to their name, lifting ol’ Big Ears in 1987 and 2004, and two additional wins in the Europa League, from 2003 and 2011. Porto also won the UEFA Supercup in 1987. They have also qualified for Europe’s elite competition with stunning regularity, equalling Real Madrid and Barcelona with the most Champions League Group Stage appearances (21 times). Not bad company. Their 2004 triumph was all the more impressive because of the fact that they are the last team from outside of England, Germany, Italy, or Spain to win the competition. I would note who led Porto to this feat, but that would necessitate praising a man for whom praising would cause me considerable and real pain.
Liverpool and Porto will face off in the first leg at Estádio do Dragão, which translates to Dragon Stadium, which is almost unbearably cool. One of Porto’s nicknames is “The Dragons,” due to the green dragon at the top of their crest. If your team was nicknamed “The Dragons” you’d want to play at Dragon Stadium too. The stadium was completed in 2003, ahead of the 2004 Euros.
We’re likely to see Porto’s classic blue and white striped kits on both legs. Although early kits varied substantially, the blue and white tops have been largely unchanged since 1909. The president, still Costa at this time, thought the team’s kit should reflect the colors of the country’s flag, not the city’s. For those of you who like me said, “What a tick, isn’t Portugal’s flag red and green or something?” Well, funny story, Portugal’s flag was actually blue and white until 1910. Had Costa come to his decision just a year later, we could be seeing Porto running out in their classic red and green (or something) kits.
Liverpool will travel to Dragon stadium to face off against Porto Wednesday, February 14th, 7:45 GMT. Porto will make the return fixture on Tuesday, March 6th.