Portugal

Road to the Finals

Portugal were the stand-out favourites to win Group A in their qualification for EURO 2008, but they made hard work of it and eventually came second behind Poland by a single point.

Finland were the surprise success story of the group, and in the opening game they showed Portugal that they were not going to be a walkover by managing to get a 1-1 draw against the EURO 2004 finalists. They had to play for most of the second half with only ten men after defender Ricardo Costa was sent off, and in the end it was goalkeeper Ricardo who kept them in it with some good saves, with Nuno Gomez scoring the equalizer.

A 3-0 home win against Azerbaijan settled some early nerves and got their campaign up and running, but this was quickly erased through a 2-1 away defeat to eventual group winners Poland. With only four points from three games, things were not looking great.

Luckily for them, it was to be their last loss of the campaign. However, the remainder of it was dominated by surprise results that no one expected, all of which have made the Portuguese public very sceptical ahead of the tournament.

After their away loss to Poland, they racked up a couple of home wins against Kazakhstan and Belgium, but then fell to 1-1 away result against Serbia, an embarrassing result for the team.

A win against Belgium in the away leg was not enough to make up for their next game, as they fell to a humiliating 1-1 draw against minnows Armenia away from home in August 2007, which marked the low point of the campaign.

In their home game against Poland, they failed to make up for their defeat earlier in the campaign by only managing a 2-2 draw, and another 1-1 draw against Serbia at home meant that they had not managed a win in three games.

His presence was not duly missed, however, as over October and November they managed to get three wins out of three against Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Armenia, meaning they went into the last match against Finland needing only a draw to go through.

It was a nervy affair because they knew that a loss would see them fail to qualify, but in the end they held their opponents to a 0-0 draw, which meant that they had finally qualified, if not in the way that they would have liked.

Manager

Luiz Felipe Scolari

Recognised as one of the best international coaches in the world, Scolari has already attained the ultimate goal by winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. He then came close to getting the European Championship straight after with Portugal in Euro 2004, going all the way to the final but losing to shock winners Greece.

Having also led Portugal to the World Cup semi-final in 2006, where they were eliminated by France 1-0, Portugal will certainly be favourites to top their group and will be tipped by many to take the trophy.

Scolari did not enjoy a particularly distinguished playing career, becoming a coach in 1982. His first major success came in 1995 when he won the Copa Libertadores, the biggest club competition in South America, with Grêmio FPBA, and he went on to do the same thing with SE Palmeiras four years later.

It was only after his success with these clubs that he turned to coaching at an international level, and he is now hoping to do for Portugal what he did for Brazil.

Never far away from controversy, he made headlines around the world when he lashed out at Serbian player Ivica Dragutinovic following their 0-0 draw during qualification, slapping him around the face and earning a three-match touchline ban for his behaviour.

He was also been linked to the England manager post in 2006, which he very publicly turned down. However, he may be on his way to England as he is currently being linked to Manchester City, depending on how well Portugal perform at the finals.

Ones to watch

Christiano Ronaldo – right winger

Ronaldo is currently in a league of his own. Not only has he had a phenomenal season with Manchester United, but he also scored eight goals during qualification for Portugal. He has performed fantastically for Portugal in both of the previous big tournaments, and his recent spew of awards, including the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, sees him recognised as one of the best players in the world at the moment. He will surely be the talisman for the team, and the fans will know that as long as he stays fit anything is possible.

Nuno Miquel Gomes – striker

Nuno Gomes scored three goals in qualification against Finland, Belgium and Poland, and although this is five less than Ronaldo, he is still a key man for the Portugal team. He currently plays for Portuguese side Benfica, and has scored six league goals this season. As a slightly older player, he first hit the international headlines when he shone at EURO 2000, and now he will be hoping to make his mark on this his fifth international competition.

Deco – attacking midfielder

Deco is originally Brazilian, but after six years of residence in Portugal he was granted citizenship, and has shined for the national team. It was a move which divided the fans, and his first game was against none other than Brazil, during which he settled the debate by scoring. He has twice won the UEFA Best Midfielder Award, first with FC Porto, and later with current club Barcelona, and he is still capable of some stunning performances. Not a prolific goals-scorer, he is nevertheless a solid midfielder, and will be hoping to impress in the tournament.

Other info

Scolari has stated that Portugal will need to improve significantly if they are to have any chance of success in the tournament. The qualification was far from spectacular, and they will be hoping to turn their performances around when they kick off their campaign in June.

They have recently suffered injuries to a few key players, most notably defender Jorge Andrade, which will hamper their chances. However, no one would bet against Portugal, whose record in major competitions seems to get better and better.

And with Ronaldo providing the inspiration and Scolari at the helm, they are certainly going to go into the tournament as of the main contenders for the crown.

Current FIFA ranking: 9
Odds: 9/1