Figo respectful but not fearful of England

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The Independent Online

It is with a determined confidence that Portugal will face England tomorrow. Yesterday they turned off the air conditioning in the tent outside the team hotel that has served as the venue for press conferences but Luis Figo remained decidedly cool.

It was no surprise to hear that the Portuguese captain would be speaking to the media. His message was clear and unwavering. He and his team-mates have the measure of their opponents and he, as their leader, wanted to make that point. "We see them with the respect that there should always be," the 33-year-old said. "We have a deep knowledge of their team. We have seen them in the World Cup, we know the way they play and we have to be prepared for anything that could happen on the pitch."

That was partly in reference to their chaotic, at times brutal, match against the Netherlands, in which both sides ended with nine men. It led to dark accusations. It is an issue that has pricked Portuguese sensitivities and, perhaps drawn the squad closer together. "We are a normal team," Figo said, "the last game was atypical." Even so, he conceded that they had to dig deep - and perhaps take a win-at-all-costs approach.

"You think about all the country being behind you, supporting you and suffering with you," Figo said. "And that gives you the strength to continue to play and do your best."

This Portuguese team is also, Figo said, "making history". Comparisons with the Eusebio-inspired generation of 1966, when they reached the semi-finals, are being made. "Nothing will delete what the '66 team did but those are two different times in football," he said. "We are proud of what we've done and will keep working to improve Portugal's history in football."

Figo dismissed talk that facing England would, in some way, be a grudge match. "For us it's not revenge, it's probably more for England after what happened in the last European championship," he said.

Portugal won then, at the same stage of the competition, and on penalties although Figo is a very different creature now. After his international retirement, which followed Euro 2004 he has come back and is in resurgent form. Yesterday he was again brushing aside suggestions that he may finally retire from international football. "Every game could be my last game," Figo shrugged. "I'm not eternal."

He wouldn't be drawn as to whether he feels the Portuguese go into the encounter with some kind of "psychological advantage" although his feeling was clear. "You have to ask the England players not me," he said. "I think we are showing a great mentality in this competition and we hope to beat England in all ways." That includes the prospect of penalties although Figo divulged that the squad had, as yet, not practised any.

"If you arrive at that moment we hope to have more luck than England," Figo said.

The Portuguese are also confident Cristiano Ronaldo will recover from his thigh injury even though he sat out training yesterday.

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