From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.29 :: NO.23 :: Jun. 10, 2006
CAPTAIN LUIS FIGO (practising freekicks with dummies at Portugal's training camp) is the last remnant of Portugal's `golden generation' and the desire to win something big for him in his last World Cup will spur on his teammates.
There are three key ingredients to winning a World Cup talent, desire and luck. And arguably no team playing in this summer's tournament has all these qualities in greater abundance than Portugal.
In terms of talent, there has never been any doubt about the ability of Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad. Possessing some of the most naturally gifted players in Europe, the quality of Portugal's football often leads to comparisons with Brazil. Boasting the likes of Luis Figo, Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo in creative positions, it is not hard to see why.
In fact, Portugal are potentially more dangerous than the defending world champions because of the talent they possess behind that midfield trio, with a defence to rival that of Italy. Two of those, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, currently ply their trade at Chelsea, the team often considered to have the most impressive backline in club football.
At the other end of the field, what Portugal have lacked in the past they finally have a regular goal-getter. Pauleta was European qualifying's top scorer, with 11 goals in 12 games, an incredible return from a striker who had until two years ago struggled to put away the glut of chances created by the team's outrageously talented midfield. The Paris St Germain hitman's remarkable haul took him past Eusebio's all-time scoring record for the country of 41, and a half-century of international strikes beckons in Germany.
Only the Czech Republic scored more goals in European qualifying, Portugal averaging virtually three a game, their tally of 35 including a 7-1 thrashing of Russia, normally no pushovers on the world stage. Portugal conceded just five goals in their unbeaten campaign.
The return of Figo from his international hiatus has proved a successful one, helping offset the loss of Rui Costa, who retired following the 2004 European Championships. In terms of desire, that tournament had and should continue to have a massive influence on Portugal's performances.
Defeat in the final of a major tournament on home soil could have sent Scolari's troops one of two ways and it is a great credit to them they have reacted to their Euro 2004 final loss to Greece in the best possible fashion. That loss compounded their disastrous display in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where they failed to even make the knockout stages of the competition after shock Group D surrenders to Korea and the USA.
The desire to win something big will be bigger because of the knowledge that this summer will be the final chance for a member of their so-called `golden generation' to claim a senior international prize. Winners of the 1989 and 1991 Under-20 World Championships, great things were predicted of Portugal in the decade or so to come, but they always fell short and Figo is the last remnant of that era. Scolari is also set to step down following the finals. The man who led his native Brazil to their fifth World Cup last time out could become the first person to coach two different countries to football's biggest prize. However, he has set a modest target for his side, saying: "Our objective is to reach the last eight, but we know we have a good enough team to reach the final. The idea is not to put ourselves under too much pressure or give the players the mistaken impression it's the title or nothing."
He also admits he would rather his side did not face Brazil. "Brazil are playing well," he said. "I hope Carlos Alberto Parreira's team does a good job at the World Cup, although I hope not to meet them." They are not scheduled to do so until the semi-finals at the earliest but will almost certainly need some luck to avoid facing them at all.
However, this final ingredient appears to be in evidence too, December's draw handing them a dream group of Angola, Iran and Mexico. Scolari was having none of it. "We have a difficult draw," he said. Despite Scolari's caution, the Group D fixtures have also worked out perfectly for his team, meaning it is possible by the time they play seeds Mexico in their final game they will have already guaranteed their passage to the second round.
The other piece of luck any side needs is with injuries and Portugal so far have suffered just one major setback, Jorge Andrade ruled out of the competition with a serious knee injury. That, then, gives them a combination of the three key factors which may be unmatched by any of the remaining 31 teams this summer.
Goalkeepers: Ricardo Pereira (Sporting), Quim Silva (Benfica), Bruno Vale (Estrela Amadora).
Defenders: Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea), Miguel Monteiro (Valencia), Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Fernando Meira (VfB Stuttgart), Marco Caneira (Sporting), Ricardo Costa (Porto), Nuno Valente (Everton).
Midfielders: Armando Petit (Benfica), Costinha (Dynamo Moscow), Tiago Mendes (Olympique Lyon), Maniche Ribeiro (Chelsea), Hugo Viana (Valencia), Luis Figo (Inter Milan), Deco (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Simao Sabrosa (Benfica).
Forwards: Luis Boa Morte (Fulham), Pauleta (Paris Saint-Germain) Nuno Gomes (Benfica), Helder Postiga (Saint-Etienne).
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Big Philand and his ways
Luiz Felipe Scolari has the perfect credentials to lead Portugal in this summer's World Cup in Germany after all, it was Scolari, known affectionately as Felipao (`Big Phil') who led his homeland Brazil to world football's ultimate prize in Japan four years ago. He was therefore an obvious choice to lead the host nation's campaign in Euro 2004 and in leading his adopted country to runners-up spot the first time Portugal have reached a major final he has certainly laid the foundations for another tilt at glory.
Scolari is a ruthless disciplinarian and does not respect reputations. When he took the Brazil job at a time when the country was in real danger of not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time he immediately cast out the likes of Romario, Edmundo and Mario Jardel. "I make the decisions about the players I want in my squads," he said.
His decisions have been no less controversial since joining Portugal and he has never selected Joao Pinto, who won two youth World Cups in 1989 or 1991, while he has angered many Porto fans in constantly refusing to select goalkeeper Vitor Baia.
Scolari, whose military bearing has earned him the nickname of Sargentao (sergeant major), showed once again how he will not shirk from taking a major decision when Euro 2004 got under way. A 2-1 defeat at the hands of Greece in their opening game was an awful start for the hosts. The coach immediately made sweeping changes as Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Miguel replaced Fernando Couto, Manuel Rui Costa and Paulo Ferreira. Portugal marched on to the final only to fall at the final hurdle with the Greeks once again proving the nemesis of Scolari and his team.
Scolari's blunt speaking is endearing and he will not hesitate to give a stupid question an abrupt reply. When asked by English journalists to compare Wayne Rooney to Pele during Euro 2004 he said: "Well one's white and the other's black."
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