Willem van Hanegem, Louis van Gaal, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola… they all said at some stage in their career: “I don’t care who we play, what their tactics are or what they do… We play our own game. And we won’t change it for the sake of our opponents…”
As if playing Germany isn’t enough, Holland is also up against a recent blood rival, Portugal.
They were too smart for us in the 2002 World Cup campaign ( or was Louis van Gaal maybe so dumb???) and in 2004, they blocked us in the Euros in Portugal. Two years later we played them in what is debatable the most shameful match ever ( I think the rigged West-Germany vs Austria in 1982 was worse, by the way)…
That World Cup 2006 game, with all those yellows and reds, and what would be the seed game for the Van Basten vs Bommel / Nistel rift.
That Portugal! They made it through and would eventually be stopped in the semi finals. Two years before, they made it to the finals of “their” Euros and got beaten by Greece. There still is justice, I’d say. I remember I didn’t watch that game as I couldn’t stand seeing them lift the trophy and when I received the text messages claiming Greece won it and simply didn’t believe it.
So we meet again. And this time, we will win it. Statistically, that is what has to happen. Too bad for C Ronaldo, Nani and Meireles but Portugal is going home.
Their first big trophy will have to wait.
In 1984, Portugal did collect a lot of fans when the sympatico team lost against France in a sizzling semi finals. And 12 years of drought followed. In 1996, they finally re-emerged as they reached the quarter finals and the semis even in 2000 in Holland. With their golden generation of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Fernando Couto….
This time around, they almost missed the Euros completely as they only got one point from their first two qualification games. Manager Paulo Bento took over from Carlos Queiroz and since that event, Portugal won 5 games in a row. They had to play a play-off match but won it convincingly ( 6-2 over Bosnia Herzegovina). They may not longer have a sympathetic sttriker like Eusebio was in 1966, but the annoying C Ronaldo and Nani must assuredly are highly capable forwards. With strongholders Meireles and Moutinho in midfield and butchers Pepe and creative Coentrao in defense, Portugal might be a dark horse.
The team manager
Paulo Bento was a Jan Wouters like midfielder. Strong, focused and tough. He played 35 international games and was part of the group that made it to the semis in 2000. Bento started as youth coach at Sporting and coached the seniors to two national cups and two super cups. He took over from Queiroz in 2010 and found his winning ways with the national team. In November 2010, his Portugal beat reigning World and Euro champs Spain, 4-0.
Cristiano Ronaldo might be an annoy
ing brat, he’s also highly talented. He played a key part in Portugal’s qualification campaign with seven goals. The former Man U star made his debut in the 2004 Portugal team amd won the UEFA Football player of the year award in 2008. In that year he received the band for Portugal.
Rui Patricio was third choice in 2008 but made his way to the top spot under Bento this year. The tall goalie played for Portugal in that Spain game ( 4-0) but had to wait a year before he was granted the starting berth.
The Brazil born defender almost quit football until Co Adriaanse landed at FC Porto and started to work with the shy defender. Pepe developed tremendously and got the big transfer to Real Madrid. Portugal didn’t lose a game whenever Pepe played in the starting line up. Pepe is fast, tough as nails and a good header. He has penetrative runs and good vision for a defender but tends to sometimes loose the plot. And when he does, he does that really really well….
Raul Meireles started for Portugal since the World Cup 2006. The shrewd midfielder didn’t miss a game this qualification round and has 50 caps to his name. He is effective both defensively as offensively and scores important goals for clubs and nation. Meireles pairs physical strength to tactical smarts.