Scolari finds sun has set on golden generation

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The Independent Football

The 22 players selected by Portugal's World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari for Wednesday's match illustrate the continuing decline of the so-called "golden generation".

Success in the World Youth Championships of 1989 and 1991 gave rise to hopes of eclipsing the classic Portugal sides of the 1966 World Cup and 1984 European Championship; but after beating England from 2-0 down at Euro 2000, their best chance was controversially curtailed in another semi-final by France.

A cull after failing again at the last World Cup (defeats by the United States and South Korea on either side of victory over Poland) ended the inter-national careers of Jorge Costa, João Pinto and the goalkeeper Vitor Baia among others. Yet some of the familiar names remain: Luis Figo (31, and winning his 100th cap), Lazio's Fernando Couto (34), Rui Costa (31), Rui Jorge (30) and Pedro Pauleta (30).

But hope is being invested in the younger generation of exciting attacking players typified by Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Hugo Viana of Newcastle. Tottenham's Helder Postiga might have joined them in the squad but, like the more experienced Nuño Gomes, he is injured, which opens up a place for Luis Boa Morte, his chances helped by a formation likely to mirror Fulham's, with two wide players and one striker down the middle.

Pauleta, of Paris Saint-Germain, is established in the central role because of his dazzling form for club and country, which in the latter case now runs to seven goals in the last four internationals. His record, and his country's, was admittedly boosted by the fact that the last four came in an 8-0 victory against Kuwait as Scolari took the chance to boost national morale after a less-than-impressive run.

Although winning 1-0 in Norway, when Pauleta began his scoring run, there was little to shout about in laboured home victories over Kazakh-stan and Albania (who led 2-1 at half-time) and a dispiriting 3-0 home loss to the old enemies - and Euro 2004 group rivals - Spain. That result looked even worse once the countries were drawn together next summer - their meeting on 20 June could decide whom England meet in the quarter-finals - and so did the 1-1 draw in November at home to Greece, who make up the group with Russia.

Friendlies, of course, are never the most reliable guide, but like any host country, Portugal have had to make do with them for 18 months. They also drew 1-1 with England at Villa Park early in Scolari's reign.

Boa Morte now has 11 caps, the manager admiring his energy and willingness to take opponents on. Whoever plays full-back for England on Wednesday should find themselves being reacquainted at some stage with him and the even more mercurial Ronaldo.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Quim (Braga), Ricardo (Sporting). Defenders: Couto (Lazio), Andrade (Deportivo), Miguel (Benfica), Valente (FC Porto), Ferreira (FC Porto), Carvalho (FC Porto), Beto (Sporting), Rui Jorge (Sporting).

Midfielders: Deco (FC Porto), Petit (Benfica), Costinha (FC Porto), Viana (Newcastle), Rui Costa (AC Milan), Tiago (Benfica). Forwards: Boa Morte (Fulham), Figo (Real Madrid), Pauleta (PSG), Simao (Benfica), Ronaldo (Manchester Utd), Almeida (Uniao Leiria).

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