Gold blend to give Portuguese unalloyed joy

Hosts' Brazilian coach has a precocious new generation of players to play alongside the established stars in the quest for glory
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The Independent Football

Big Phil. Artful Deco. Old gold. New gold. Home turf. Those are five of the reasons why Portugal's fans think Euro 2004 is going to be their tournament. And it could be just like watching Brazil.

The Samba influence is most apparent in the Brazilian coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, and in the magical talent of the playmaker, Deco Souza. "Big Phil" led his home nation to success in the 2002 World Cup before taking day-to-day charge of Portugal earlier this year.

Deco, born and raised in Brazil but resident in Portugal since he was 17, became a Portuguese citizen at Scolari's behest in March. Three days later the player made his international debut for his new country and came off the bench to score a stunning winner in a 2-1 friendly victory. The opponents? Brazil, of course.

Deco's call-up caused ripples in the Portuguese squad and beyond. His fast-track to a passport even produced questions from the long-established internationals, Luis Figo and Rui Costa - both fellow midfielders. Scolari responded by saying: "Anyone who doesn't want to play with Deco needn't turn up."

Deco's goal against Brazil, a breathtaking free-kick, came in the Antas stadium, where he had already spent years with Porto winning hearts, minds and silverware. It was with Porto, in May against Celtic in the Uefa Cup final, that he stole the show with an exquisite creative display of jinking runs and effortless, intelligent passing. He has been the subject of intense transfer speculation in Italy, Spain and England ever since.

"He will help us out, on the wing, in the middle, wherever," Scolari said after the Brazil game. "That's the spirit I want in the team." The only reason Scolari had not selected Deco for Brazil in his previous job was a surfeit of options in midfield. Not that he lacks them in his current job.

Real Madrid's Figo and Milan's Rui Costa, both 30, were members of the "golden generation" which won the 1991 world youth championships, and both remain on course to feature in next summer's tournament. A third "golden oldie" from that team, Fernando Couto, 34, is almost certain to be their captain, an injury-free year in Lazio's defence permitting.

The "new gold" generation, which is starting to prosper around Europe, also contains flair for the flanks, not least in Newcastle's Hugo Viana, 20, and the 18-year-old "super-kid" Cristiano Ronaldo, who Manchester United signed from Sporting Lisbon for £12.24m on Tuesday. Other juniors who have started making waves on the international stage include the 19-year-old striker Ricardo Quaresma, who has just moved from Sporting Lisbon to Barcelona, and Tottenham's new forward, 21-year-old Helder Postiga.

Scolari will assess how to blend their talents, or not, within a squad that contains options throughout. Ricardo seems likely to keep the No 1 shirt ahead of Vitor Baia, while Jorge Andrade and Rui Jorge look settled in defence. Pauleta, on recent evidence, will be ahead of Nuno Gomes in the pecking order in attack while the likes of Sergio Conceicão and João Pinto will face tough competition to be in the midfield shake-up.

After the disappointment of last year's first-round World Cup exit, signs of recovery are promising. Scolari's only defeat in six matches was in his first game, a 1-0 reverse against Italy in Genoa in -10C in February. Upcoming games include one against Kazakhstan next week, then Spain on 6 September and Norway, away on 10 September.

By then, the countdown to Euro 2004 on home soil will be underway in earnest. "I want [this team] to make history," Scolari has said. An optimistic country thinks they have five hopes of doing so.