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Settling for silver

Portugal's golden generation just misses glory; youth promise better

Posted: Sunday July 4, 2004 7:42PM; Updated: Sunday July 4, 2004 7:42PM
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Goodbye golden generation. Thanks for the thrills.

The crop of brilliant players who emerged from the Portugal side which won the 1991 world under-21 title and went on to join Europe's top clubs were feted as the country's "golden generation" and dubbed "the Brazilians of Europe" for their flair.

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But they never won a trophy.

As that group steps aside for emerging young stars, Portugal went further than ever before in reaching the Euro 2004 final.

They lost by a single goal to Greece, but they lost in style and delighted their fans.

And the Portuguese have a new nickname for their new wonderkids: the platinum generation.

The transition is being masterminded by Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who two years ago collected the World Cup title for his country.

Scolari's team -- a blend of the old and the new -- kept spirits up despite the crushing defeat.

"The Portuguese team was excellent at Euro 2004. Nobody's going to keep us down. We'll bounce back even stronger," Scolari said, adding: "This is not the end. We'll win something in the future. We'll see you at the next World Cup" in two years' time.

Euro 2004 was a turning point landmark for the national team as the veterans made way for the new blood.

AC Milan midfielder Rui Costa, who was mostly kept on the subs' bench by FC Porto playmaker Deco, said last week he's retiring from the national side at the end of the championship.

FC Porto's Ricardo Carvalho pushed out veteran Lazio central defender Fernando Couto.

Even national soccer icon Luis Figo of Real Madrid had to fight for a place in the side with Manchester United teenager Cristiano Ronaldo, the torchbearer for the new generation.

"We have to lift our chins up and look to the future," said Ronaldo, who wept after the defeat and was comforted by soccer great Eusebio. "This doesn't end here. We showed we have a great team and we'll keep going."

Figo has said he's mulling retirement from international soccer.

Figo, Costa and Couto, all now in their 30s, have more than 300 caps between them.

Also, Sporting Lisbon goalie Ricardo Pereira banished the ghost of veteran Vitor Baia who was not even on the roster.

Even first-choice striker Pauleta, who had a blank scoresheet at the European Championship, is looking over his shoulder at the challenge from Benfica's Nuno Gomes and Tottenham teenager Helder Postiga.

"We'll be in more tournament finals," Postiga said. "We have the players to do it."

Portugal loses on the pitch, but still triumphs

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- It's time for Portugal to look on the bright side: it lost a trophy but got back its self-belief.

Defeat against Greece in the Euro 2004 final Sunday denied the host nation the silverware which for decades it has pursued in vain.

What it gained, though, could prove just as valuable.

Joy over the team's performances put some pep back into Portugal after a year of gloom, and successful organization of the European Championship restored the people's faith in themselves.

"We've taken a first step towards helping Portugal to move forward not only in soccer but also to achieve things in other areas of life," said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who took Portugal to its first ever final.

"This is really important for the whole country. Portugal was sad, unsure of itself," midfielder Nuno Maniche said. "It's brought a lot of happiness to Portuguese families who were going through hard times."

For the Portuguese, Euro 2004 was always about much more than just soccer.

Hosting the world's third-biggest sports event was both a test of the country's competence and a chance to show it deserves the respect and admiration of its larger European partners.

Portugal's run to the tournament's final for three weeks united a nation whose temperament is more suited to divisive and destructive squabbling.

This country of 10.3 million banded together in support for a national objective and in all-night street celebrations in a way not seen since the feted downfall of Antonio Salazar's dictatorship 30 years ago.

Doomsayers predicted Portugal would be humiliated on the pitch and ridiculed internationally because it would be unable to cope with a half-million visitors lured by the tournament.

The pessimists foresaw rampages by foreign hooligans and possible terror attacks, and said the euro4 billion ($4.8 billion) spent on readying the country for the world's third-biggest sports event was a misguided investment as Portugal remained mired in an economic recession.

But now it has a formidable new team and a new national spirit which promise greater things.

Portugal ground out tense wins against traditional rival Spain and a daunting England team.

Its stylish, entertaining play won broad acclaim.

It built 10 new stadiums which are among the continent's best soccer venues.

And all across the country people rallied to coach Scolari's call for fans to place Portugal's red, green and yellow national flags in the windows of their homes and offices and on their cars.

It was a rare display of national pride and unity.

"We've shown how the future can be -- more cheerful, more united," Scolari said.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese transport network didn't collapse and neither the terrorists nor the hooligans appeared, largely thanks to a huge international security operation.

Given a warm welcome by the courteous and congenial Portuguese, visiting fans basked in sunshine and temperatures which most days have exceeded 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and promised to return on vacation.

Scolari called it "the Euro of love, affection and friendship."

UEFA chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson said, "I am entitled to say that this is the best European championships ever."

Portugal still hasn't snared the trophy it craves, but both on and off the pitch this country of 10.3 million still has reason to celebrate.

Scolari has eyes on the World Cup

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- One hour after losing the Euro 2004 final to Greece 1-0, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was already eyeing something he knows much better -- winning the World Cup.

As heartbreaking as Sunday's final to Greece was, the Brazilian immediately looked at Portugal's good run through the tournament and said it would serve well in World Cup qualifying.

"Thanks for everything and we will see you at the World Cup," Scolari said. He won the title as Brazil coach in 2002 and now wants to become the first to win soccer's premier event for two different nations.

At Euro 2004, he was trying to become the only coach to have steered two different national teams to the World Cup and European Championship titles.

During the tournament he molded the outgoing generation of Figo and Rui Costa together with the incoming talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Helder Postiga. But it will be the youngsters who will carry the qualifying campaign when it opens in September.

"We are going to keep all the good of our work, and we will use it to win something in the future," Scolari said.

Portugal is a favorite to win its qualifying group which also includes Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Russia and Slovakia.

After reaching the semifinals at Euro 2004, the Brazilian agreed to continue his coaching stint with Portugal for another two years.

Even though Portugal was the favorite to beat Greece in the final, it could not force its way past the ironclad defense.

"They have a wonderful defense. They play to take advantage of the mistakes of opponents," he said. "We were better in some parts of the game, but they scored and we didn't."

It may come back to haunt him. Scolari stuck with under-fire striker Pauleta despite pressure to field Nuno Gomes. Throughout the final, Pauleta was ineffective and Scolari finally pulled him for Gomes in the 74th minute. It was too late.

He refused to criticize his players and blamed the defeat on the Greek defense, not his lack of offense.

By now though, the Portuguese fans should be able to forgive him after he turned around a mediocre team and led it into the final.

In a series of friendly games before the championship, Portugal chalked up a disappointing 7-5-3 record which boded poorly for Euro 2004. Many blamed Scolari and wanted him fired.

Then came Portugal's loss to Greece in the tournament's opening game, further souring national expectations.

He then kept on winning until Sunday's final.

Scolari part of Portuguese family despite defeat

LISBON (Reuters) -- Luiz Felipe Scolari could not lead Portugal to the Euro 2004 title they craved but the wily Brazilian can still be proud of his achievement in taking his adopted country so close to glory.

Eighteen months ago, with the country still smarting from a dismal World Cup campaign, the Portuguese Football Association took the gamble of asking Scolari to try and repeat his success in leading Brazil to their fifth world title.

That looked an unwise decision when outsiders Greece inflicted a traumatic defeat on the hosts in the opening match of Euro 2004 and Scolari woke the next day to headlines questioning his decision-making, temperament and tactics.

Four games and four victories later, Portugal were through to a major final for the first time, Scolari had accepted a two-year extension to his contract and his status as a national hero was secured.

In the end, there was to be no glorious finale, with Greece snatching a 1-0 win on Sunday they deserved for their awesome strength in defence.

The 55-year-old Scolari once had a reputation for employing bullying tactics in his native Brazil and to an outsider he still seems to have something of the bruiser about him.

TOUCHLINE RANTS

He is the archetypal touchline ranter during games, by turns berating his players for their perceived deficiencies and leaping from the bench to celebrate their triumphs.

Throughout the tournament, he has shown himself to be a master tactician, capable of turning a match with an astute substitution and, until the final, blessed with the invaluable quality of luck.

His triumphs, which also include successes with Kuwait in the Gulf Cup and Brazilian clubs Palmeiras and Gremio in South America's Libertadores Cup, have all been built around the concept of the team coming before individuals.

However, with Brazil in 2002, he relied heavily on the ball-playing skills of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, and with Portugal the match-winning abilities of Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco have been crucial.

The man known as Felipao, or Big Phil, has left no one in any doubt that his word is final.

In his home country, he ignored the deafening clamour for the return of the ageing ego of Romario for the 2002 World Cup.

With Portugal, he was equally unmoved by calls for Vitor Baia to return in goal.

Baia's replacement, the unheralded Ricardo, became the quarter-final hero against England at Euro 2004, saving from Darius Vassell and then scoring the winner himself in the penalty shootout.

SENTIMENTAL STREAK

Scolari did appear to be showing a sentimental streak when he included Fernando Couto, Rui Costa and Simao Sabrosa in his team for the opening match against Greece but he had a graphic explanation for his decision the day after the match.

"I'd only ever had two or three days with the players," Scolari said. "Those 20 days (before and during the tournament) were the first time I had the chance to spend a long time with the team.

"It was like going out with a girlfriend for five or six years, getting married and splitting up one week later.

"You sleep together, wake up and then you see what she looks like first thing in the morning - really quite ugly."

Couto, Rui Costa and Simao were immediately dropped from the starting line-up, with the in-form Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo taking their places with great success.

By the same token, he has shown himself willing to forgive and forget, recalling the talented Maniche to his midfield several months after dropping him for what he perceived as being a half-hearted display in a 3-0 defeat by Spain.

Scolari described Maniche as a son who needed a bit of discipline and the player showed his lesson had been learned with a crucial early goal against Russia and a stunning effort against the Netherlands in the semi-final.

"If I'm his son, I can say he's been a good father to me," Maniche said.

Scolari announced after the semi-final win against the Dutch that he had decided to accept a proposal from the Portuguese FA and extend his stay as coach up to the 2006 World Cup.

"I have here the ring and I say yes to two more years of marriage," the coach said.

From father figure to elated husband, Scolari is one of the family now, even if there was little to celebrate on Sunday.

Portuguese fans still find something to cheer

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Portugal may have lost the Euro 2004 final it longed to win on home turf, but its fans still went into the streets to cheer their team for its acclaimed run at the three-week tournament.

Two of the capital's main plazas, Rossio and Pombal, filled with flag-waving supporters. At Rossio, they sang the national anthem despite the disappointment at losing to Greece 1-0. Cars driving through the riverside city's streets honked their horns and flew flags.

The scenes were repeated across the country, television broadcasts showed.

Though the celebrations didn't match the joy of victories earlier in the championship, especially hard-fought wins over traditional rival Spain and a daunting England team, the Portuguese were delighted with Portugal's performances which boosted national spirits.

"Well, I suppose you can't have everything," said Maria Beltrao, who watched the game on TV with her large family and wept at the loss, "but we got a lot."

Maria Simoes, 36, said she was angry that a defensive Greek team took the honors at Euro 2004 while her own side thrilled the crowds but left empty-handed.

"The Euro has been so much fun. I really enjoyed it up to now," she said.

The day began on a high note of optimism.

Thousands of fans formed a human chain along part of the route taken by the bus carrying the team to the stadium from their training camp just outside the capital.

Flag-waving fans on horseback, aboard hang-gliders and on fishing boats gathered on the Tagus River, on motorcycles and in cars saluted the team as it passed. A private single-engine plane performed stunts overhead.

Some priests in this Roman Catholic country reportedly included a prayer for the team in church services Sunday.

Goa goes flat after Portugal defeat

PANAJI, India (Reuters) -- Soccer fans in the former Portuguese colony of Goa slumped in dejection after the hosts lost 1-0 to Greece in the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon on Sunday.

Thousands of people across the India's western coastal state, who began partying hours before the match began just past midnight local time, melted away into a mild drizzle from many venues where they had assembled to watch the game on big TV screens.

Hundreds of soccer clubs in the tiny state, under Portugese rule from the early 16th century until 1961, and many beach resorts in the tourist paradise had arranged celebrations after their favourite side made it to the final.

Silence descended on the local Calangute Soccer Club in Goa's main city of Panaji, packed with hundreds of boisterous locals and foreigners, the moment striker Angelos Haristeas headed in the winner in the 57th minute.

"It's a game, anything can happen," shrugged a dejected Joaquim Lobo, leaving behind a handful of Greek supporters to stayed back to celebrate. "Portugal missed too many chances tonight.

"Greece played a better game and showed better tactics," said Joseph Carvalho, a 56-year-old shop-keeper, one among a generation having strong emotional links with Portugal.

Joaquim Lobo, one of the several fans with their face painted in Portuguese colours, added ruefully: "No more, we will go home and drown our sorrows in drink tonight."

Despite their the disappointment, the fans remembered to burst crackers they had reserved hoping for a Portugal victory.

Goa has deep and historic links with Portugal. It became a Portugese colony in the early 16th century after Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope to discover the sea route to India in 1498.

Portuguese rule ended in 1961 when Indian forces entered the coastal enclave dotted with swaying coconut palms, but the state still has distinct Portuguese trappings.

Pubs and bars throughout the state had made arrangements to celebrate the game with gallons of beer and a local cashew drink, feni and many domestic TV channels were carrying live pictures of the Portugal mania in Goa.

Goa led the support of millions of Indians for the championship, especially after the strong showing by Portugal. Portugese shirts had been flying off the shelf since the tournament began three weeks ago and tailors were busy stitching flags of both teams for the finale.

Portugal players' final ratings

LISBON (Reuters) -- Portuguese player ratings out of 10 for Sunday's Euro 2004 final against Greece:

1-Ricardo: Dealt competently with what he had to do for most of the game but failed to reach the corner before Angelos Haristeas for the goal. 4.

13-Miguel: Injured after 43 minutes of positive impressive overlapping effort. His foraging runs and good link-up play were missed when he went off. 7.

4-Jorge Andrade: A solid and effective game in central defence. 6.

16-Ricardo Carvalho: Generally reliable but will be haunted by his failure to challenge Angelos Haristeas for the Greek goal. 4.

14-Nuno Valente: Less impressive than in earlier games, troubled by speed of Greek counter-attacks and found it difficult to support the attack as often as required. 5.

7-Luis Figo: Toiled all night for the cause, but rarely found any way of unlocking a packed Greek defence and produced few dangerous crosses. Unlucky with one clever deflected shot, but unable to reach the heights of his performance in semi-final against the Netherlands. 6.

6-Costinha: Battled, ran hard and covered superbly, but could not find pass or spark to help crack tight Greek rearguard. Also rooted to the floor for the Greek goal and was taken off after an hour. 5.

18-Maniche: Another tenacious, hard-working performance in midfield, but without the inspired moments that win games. Ran into blind alleys in the blanket Greek defence. 6.

17-Cristiano Ronaldo: Mixed return on his trickery and pace led to frustration and tears. Never gave up, but rarely got the better of Yourkas Seitaridis and ended up playing as an auxilliary striker without reward. 7.

20-Deco: Worked tirelessly, ran cleverly and dribbled well several times, but also unable to find way through. Unlucky not to win penalty when fouled early in the second half. Wayward shooting unimpressive.

9-Pauleta - Ran everywhere, but rarely looked like scoring his first goal of the tournament. Performed his thankless duties diligently but without reward against iron wall of Greek defence and taken off after 74 minutes. 4.

Substitutes:

2-Paulo Ferreira - Replaced the luckless Miguel after 43 minutes, made several surging runs in second half but produced few telling crosses or passes and several bad ones. 5.

10-Rui Costa - Second-half substitute for Costinha to add creativity in midfield. Could not find the space he needed to shoot or run through packed defence, though he looked the player most likely to do so. 7.

21-Nuno Gomes - Came on for Pauleta with 16 minutes remaining, helped set up few half-chances and worked hard but fans may wonder if coach Luiz Felipe Scolari should have played him from the start.

Both the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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