Scolari puts the boot into FA ahead of duel

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Amid rivalry, already depicted as deadly as that between Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, the countdown to Saturday's Duel in the Ruhr Valley intensifies. One must perish, either Sven Goran Eriksson or his nemesis Luiz Felipe Scolari, at Gelsenkirchen. Yet, whatever the outcome, the confrontation will be invested with an additional frisson of intrigue.

Bizarrely, but for the Football Association's ill-timed machinations, the Portugal coach could have been installed as Eriksson's successor. The FA may be left to squirm at the spectacle of "Big Phil" out of a job after having appointed Eriksson's No 2 Steve McClaren following Scolari's rebuff - his contract expires this summer.

Since the teams were paired for the quarter-final, the Brazilian World Cup winner has lost no opportunity in exacerbating the FA's embarrassment. It had been suggested that Scolari demanded a halt to FA negotiations because he was offended by Gary Lineker's opinion of him in his Sunday newspaper column. Lineker wrote: "He's got great credentials by winning the World Cup, but he did it with Brazil - my granny could probably have managed Brazil to World Cup success."

Yesterday, the Portugal coach added John Barnwell, head of the League Managers' Association, to his list of antagonists. Barnwell had been opposed to another foreigner succeeding Eriksson. Scolari is quoted by a Portguese newspaper as saying: "I had read the newspapers and analysing what was happening in England, I saw the chairman of the League Managers' Association was against my appointment but I think it funny that he should not be against the presence of a dozen foreign coaches who are with clubs in the English league." If Scolari is serious, it does suggest a skin far more susceptible to laceration than his tenure with Brazil would suggest. Can we really believe this of him?

Scolari also claims that the timing of the FA's approach, the incessant press intrusion into his private life and the support he received from his players convinced him to stay.

Scolari's tactical acumen will have to be at its sharpest on Saturday, as he plots how to thwart Eriksson's men without his play-maker Deco, who is suspended, and with Cristiano Ronaldo recovering from a thigh injury. Deco was dismissed after two cautions in Portugal's second-round defeat of the Netherlands, together with Francisco Costinha.

Deco was in mischievous mood yesterday, claiming: "Sometimes I think people in England ask too much of the national team." The midfielder also conceded that while he has been impressed with Wayne Rooney, the England striker could not yet be compared with legendary figures like Pele.

"No-one can be compared to Pele," he said. "He is a very young player with a lot of qualities. But comparing him to Pele is a little too much, I think. He still has so much to learn."