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Plenty of fight left (cont.)

Posted: Friday September 8, 2006 11:02AM; Updated: Friday September 8, 2006 1:29PM
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Figo is Portugal's all-time leader in caps with 127 and third in scoring with 32 goals.
Figo is Portugal's all-time leader in caps with 127 and third in scoring with 32 goals.
Simon Bruty/SI

SI.com: And you have new teammates in Patrick Vieira and Fabio Grosso on the defensive side of the ball.

Figo: Yes. Last year we had Juan Sebastián Verón in the defensive midfield, and I think we'll miss him a bit. [Verón went home to Argentina.] To me, he's the perfect player. We may be losing the long pass because Sebastián is one of the best at that. But I think Vieira has the experience and leadership ability to make us stronger.

SI.com: The Italian match-fixing scandal has put a serious dent in your competitors. Who do you expect will challenge you the most?

Figo: Milan is still going to be the strongest team -- they still have lots of quality and experience. Roma has a very good team with really good players. They did very well last year and they kept almost their entire team, so they'll be strong. I don't know if they can go all the way, though. Palermo bought a lot of good players, so they could be a contender. But there could always be a surprise. We'll have to play a few games to see what everyone can do.

SI.com: Milan has the lightest deduction of the penalized clubs: eight points. Is that enough to hold them off?

Figo: I think that's a good advantage for us, but it's not a finished thing at all. Last year Juventus took a big lead at the beginning of the season, but they had trouble toward the end. In the final few games both we and Milan came close to catching them. It's a long, hard season, and eight points is nothing for a team with the quality of Milan.

SI.com: The fans know the players had nothing to do with the scandal, but many of them are still very disappointed. Will there be added pressure to win them back?

Figo: There's always pressure to win. The fans will forget everything and they'll be happy if we win. That's the way I hope they'll judge us. They expect a great season, and it's our job not to disappoint them.

SI.com: Let's talk Champions League. Last year you did very well in the group stage but then were upset by a hot Villarreal team in the quarterfinals. What does Inter have to do to avoid a similar upset?

Figo: That was the biggest disappointment of our season last year. We expected to make it to the semifinals. We had worked so hard. We just have to play responsibly and not make mistakes. We had our chances to close out that team and we made mistakes. That's the key. In one game, anything can happen.

SI.com: You have an interesting group this year with Bayern Munich, Spartak Moscow and the team with which you began your career, Sporting Lisbon. How do you match up?

Figo: Bayern is always one of the favorites to win the Champions League, and they -- along with us -- are the favorites to advance from our group. They will be tough. Spartak won't be easy. Russian teams are always difficult to play on the road because it's usually during the winter months and the conditions are awful. But I'm most looking forward to playing Sporting. They're still my team and I support them. It will be difficult to face them, but I am a professional and I want to win.

SI.com: You're Portugal's all-time leader in caps with 127. It's strange to watch the national team without you playing. Is it weird for you, too?

Figo: I'm always going to miss playing for my country. Of course it's weird for me to see the game and not be there. But right now my mentality is to be a fan. I hope the legacy I have left them is how I've played my entire career: Focus on winning and never give up.

SI.com: You have said you wouldn't mind ending your career in America with MLS.

Figo: It's true. When I was in the States on tour with Real Madrid in spring of '05, it was my first time there and I really liked it. For my own experience and for my family, I think it would be nice to play in Los Angeles or New York. If I have the chance or the invitation to go to America, I'd have to seriously consider it. I have talked with my family about it and they have agreed to do it.

SI.com: You're one of many big stars to have dropped that hint. Do you really believe we could see MLS filled with you, Ronaldo, David Beckham and Alessandro del Piero?

Figo: Yeah, I think so. I have the idea to go if I have the chance to go. Of course, it depends on the invitation. If we are not invited, we can't go! [Laughs.]