Aberdeen are set to face a Sporting Clube de Portugal side beleaguered by positive Covid-19 tests in the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday.
Despite a storied history in European competition, the game will be just the second time the Dons have played against a Portuguese outfit.
It’s quite remarkable, considering Aberdeen’s record in Europe and the pedigree the Iberian nation has in Continental contests, that this is the case.
Alex Ferguson’s Reds were on their way to retaining the Cup Winners’ Cup they won in 1983 when they met the side above Sporting in terms of all-time Primeira League titles, Porto, in the 1984 semi-finals.
The first leg: Porto 1 – Aberdeen 0 (11/04/84)
Aberdeen went into the semi-final tie having fought back against Hungarians Ujpest in the quarter-finals (3-2 aggregate win, despite being 2-0 down after the first leg away from home).
Porto may be two-time European Cup winners now, but – in 1984 – they were pessimistic about their chances of reaching their first Continental final against the Scottish champions elect.
After the second leg, assistant boss Antonio Morais said, when they knew they were playing Fergie’s Dons, Porto “had to believe our run in this cup would come to an end”, such was the strength and reputation of the Granite City outfit’s golden generation.
Ahead of the first leg, there was a further blow for the home side when illness prevented their manager Jose Pedroto from getting to the game.
However, it only took Porto – who knocked out Rangers earlier in the competition – 16 minutes to take the lead.
A corner looped off a outstretched foot at the front post, and Fernando Gomes was able to rise above Doug Rougvie and head past Jim Leighton into the Aberdeen net.
Despite going behind, everyone in the Dons camp seemed thrilled the scoreline had been kept to 1-0.
Gomes was denied further goals by his own profligacy, and the work of Leighton and centre-back Alex McLeish.
After the break, despite Aberdeen beginning to dictate play, Porto could have had a penalty after Gomes got caught between Stewart McKimmie and Willie Miller, but it wasn’t given.
There wasn’t much of an Aberdeen threat to speak of over the first 90 minutes, with Gordon Strachan denied a couple of times by home keeper Ze Beto, but it wasn’t much of a concern at the time. Aberdeen were still considered favourites to progress from the tie.
Ferguson said his team had a “great chance” of becoming the first British team to reach consecutive Cup Winners’ Cup finals after the first 90 minutes in Portugal.
He continued: “I believe we have done the hardest part and Porto know that too”.
In the north-east, John Begg, of Grampian Rail Tours, had a plan in place to get 1,200 members of the Red Army to the final in Basle, Switzerland, on the “Dons Express”.
After the opening game of the semi, Begg said he was keeping his “fingers firmly crossed” over the idea, while around 15,000 fans had provisionally booked some sort of travel to the final in anticipation the Dons would qualify.
The second leg: Aberdeen 0 – Porto 1 (25/04/84)
Despite the expectation of a famous victory at foggy Pittodrie, like against Ujpest or Bayern Munich or Ipswich Town, it never happened for the Dons in the second leg.
Aberdeen were poor, with Ferguson complaining his players were too eager to run with the ball and beat opposition players, instead of passing it.
Porto’s goal to seal their progress was fantastic, however. In the 76th minute, Vermerlhinho broke down the right wing from his own half and, having skipped by two red shirts in the process, lobbed the ball over Leighton and into the far corner from outside the Dons’ box.
After the victory, surprised Porto assistant Morais, who was killed in a car accident five years later, said: “I never thought we would beat a team such as Aberdeen twice”.
There was to be no wallowing in self-pity after the game, with Ferguson admitting to disappointment after his side were “slaughtered in midfield”, but saying the result would allow Aberdeen to focus on securing a Premier Division and Scottish Cup double, which they duly did.
Porto, meanwhile, went on to lose the 1983/84 European Cup Winners’ Cup final to Italian giants Juventus.