Screaming for vengeance

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

As host of Euro 2004, Portugal became toast in the championship final when Cinderella-like Greece refused to discard its glass slipper.

It was a stunning 1-0 setback that sent shock waves from the Azores to Portugal's capital in Lisbon. But history has taught supporters of Portuguese football that nothing can be taken for granted, not even when Europe's most cherished national team showcase is held on home soil.

If anything, Portugal's missed opportunity four years ago was merely a flashpoint for a program, while steeped in tradition, that has yet to make a major breakthrough. It is under this burden of expectations that Portugal embarks on Euro '08, hoping to return with the country's first major hardware.

The Eusebio-led World Cup squad finished third in England back in 1966. There have been semifinal berths on the global and European playing fields in the intervening years and the runner-up finish to Greece. Despite the presence of marquee names and iconic personalities, the fact remains that Portugal has yet to win a major soccer event at the senior level.

The face of modern-day Portuguese soccer is embodied in the all-world talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, who ended a brilliant campaign with Manchester United by scoring 42 times and helping the Red Devils capture the Champions League.

No player enters Euro '08 with as much fanfare as Ronaldo, but unlike Portugal's '04 team of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Pauleta, the skill level, at least on paper, on this year's side drops off significantly after Ronaldo.

How Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari mixes and matches his players, how he goes about developing team chemistry and getting his players to elevate their games will go a long way in determining Portugal's fate.

Scolari was hired to coach Portugal in 2003, one year after leading Brazil to the World Cup title. Scolari has stayed close to his Brazilian roots and encourages his teams to play attacking, attractive soccer. What he hasn't been able to do is will his players to step up in the most crucial of moments.

As much as Pauleta will be remembered as one of the greatest goal scorers in Portuguese history, his history of scoring big goals in the biggest of spotlights isn't good.

Ronaldo scored his team's lone goal four years ago in the Euro opener, a 2-1 loss to Greece that would serve as a harbinger of bad things to come for the host country.

A player of Ronaldo's immense abilities can only be contained, but who will step up for Portugal? Benfica striker Nuno Gomes will take the place of Pauleta. Of the players who will take to the field for Portugal, no player has scored more goals for his country than Gomes. His game winner at Euro '04 versus Spain sent Portugal through to the second round. Gomes would score Portugal's only goal at the 2006 World Cup when Portugal fell to the host Germans 3-1 in the third-place game.

Helder Postiga also has a knack for scoring. Portugal's line of defence begins with keeper Ricardo, 32, who etched his name in soccer lore four years ago by making a save in a penalty shootout and then scoring in a quarter-final win over England. Fans who attended last summer's FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada might recall the exploits of Rui Patricio, who many believe is Portugal's starting keeper in waiting.

The back end is deep, dotted with experience and youth. Names such as Ricardo Carvalho, Fernando Meira, Pepe, Miguel, Jose Bosingwa and Paulo Ferreira give Scolari options and opportunities. The midfield will once again be orchestrated by Deco, one of Portugal's more decorated players, who turns 31 on Aug. 27.


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