Ricardo Quaresma belatedly lives up to the hype

Ricardo Quaresma is one of football’s greatest nearly men.

His two goals in last week’s inspirational showing in Porto’s 3-1 victory against the Champions League favourites have set up a potential cliffhanger in Munich tonight.

Quaresma was potentially the biggest star of a star-studded Academy when he came through at Sporting at the age of 17. Lisbon’s second club won both the league and the cup that season, ahead of both their famous local rivals as well as the club from ‘up north’.

The youth coaches promoted him ahead of their other big prospect who came through the following year.

However, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who caught Alex Ferguson’s eye in a friendly one hot August night in 2003.

Thus, Manchester United handed over the €17 million that would launch the teenager into the stratosphere.

Days before, Quaresma, a full international at the age of 19, had boarded the plane for Barcelona — and a career that has always promised far more than it delivered.

He first fell out with Frank Rijkaard and then drove the fans and two managers to distraction after his move to Porto, before the arrival of Co Adriaanse, who somehow persuaded him to play for the team.

That success persuaded Inter Milan under their new manager Jose Mourinho to fork out more than €18 million in a cash/player deal, whereupon Quaresma’s career instantly nosedived again.

Down, and then further down, with a brief revival in Turkey.

When he even failed in Abu Dhabi it seemed as if the trophy he was awarded in Italy — the Bidone D’Oro, or Golden Bin — would sum up his career.

Then in January last year, almost miraculously, Porto came calling again. Ten thousand fans turned up to watch him in training and the player that seemed finished was revived.

It is hard to exaggerate what this game might mean for Quaresma at the age of 31, and also for his club.

Bayern have an almost mythical status for Porto fans, not so much for their huge success and world renown but because the first time the two clubs met was in Vienna in 1987, the night when Porto matched Benfica and became champions of Europe, coming back from a goal down to score twice in the final 10 minutes.

Last week Quaresma scored two in the first 10 minutes and the explosion of sound in the Estadio do Dragao could be heard across the city. Three times they caught Bayern napping at the back with their speed and long passes behind a nervy defence, and three times Manuel Neuer was left stranded.

Neuer was lucky. He might well have been sent off in conceding a penalty after only three minutes. The Spanish referee spared him the indignity of receiving the earliest red card in Champions League history.

The worry for Porto is that despite Bayern’s many injury problems they do have that ability to blitz opponents —they also destroyed Roma 7-0 in the group stage.

Bayern may be without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on the wings, but Porto are without their two strong Brazilian full-backs. Alex Sandro and Danilo are both suspended. Danilo, signed three weeks ago by Real Madrid, will be a big loss.

Morale at Porto is sky-high coming into this game, although the pressure is on. They have a crunch league game against Benfica on Sunday to come.

Bayern obviously believe they can turn the tie around, although there has been a very public row over player fitness in the last week, culminating in the resignation of the entire medical staff.

“It’s going to be difficult,” says Thomas Muller. “But it’s not like we’ve never won at home.”

The outcome could hang on Quaresma.

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