Scolari relishing role at the head of Portuguese family

The Brazilian in charge of Portugal is motivating his players to upset England again, says Jason Burt
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They say that Luiz Felipe Scolari sprinkles holy water, imported from Brazil, on his players' shirts before matches, that he leads them in prayer meetings - and that they will go out on the pitch in Gelsenkirchen today and give everything for their country and for their coach.

They say that Scolari's hold on the Portuguese squad has never been stronger; his control of the media never greater, his determination to defeat England never more fixed. This is the "familia Scolari" and no one in Marienfeld, the pretty village on the edge of the Teutoburg Forest, north-west of Dortmund, where the Portuguese have made their World Cup base, is in any doubt as to who is its head.

"The spirit of the team is to accept everything I say," Scolari said yesterday in the grounds of the secluded Klosterpforte hotel. The 57-year-old Brazilian was talking about "style and tactics" but his words applied to everything that has happened within the camp. Last Wednesday, the Portuguese FA's media officer, Afonso de Melo, attacked the English press for disrespecting the players after a story appeared in The Sun with apparently fabricated quotes, while on Thursday the captain Luis Figo was constantly asked about the issue. The squad was closing ranks, pricked by the criticism and the aftermath of their at times brutal encounter with the Netherlands last Sunday.

And then yesterday Cristiano Ronaldo did not take part in training, which led to a game of "will he, won't he play?" Finally Scolari was asked, in his press conference, whether or not he believed that helicopters from the British army base at nearby Gutersloh were deliberately flying low, and late at night, to keep the squad awake.

"I sleep with helicopters, with mosquitoes. I sleep in any conditions. You can put anything on," Scolari said.

Even the English cannot be blamed, however, for the bells each morning from the nearby Cistercian monastery. "The players hear them from 7.49am to eight o'clock," Scolari added. "There is no problem."

There is certainly no problem in the squad and, after the events of the last few days, plus the fact that Portugal have reached the "dream" of the quarter-finals, none in the media or among the supporters. Indeed, such is Scolari's control that he can talk easily about being "free" after 31 July, when his contract with the Portuguese FA expires, to be approached for other jobs, even though there is an extension, which he intends to sign, on the table.

Imagine that happening elsewhere? Scolari even mused about the possibility of eventually taking charge of England. "If one day I receive [a] proposal [from] the FA while not having contract, I can study it," he said. The previous approach came at the wrong time, especially as he is someone who is "loyal" and "respects contracts".

It was bravura stuff. A mix of humility, honesty and pointed comments. Scolari brushed aside a debate on whether or not his team or England are playing good football. "I am a coach who likes results," he said. "I am not a liar that says I am going to win prettily, play beautifully. England has results, as well as Portugal. Those who played beautifully have gone home."

His assessment of England was also interesting. "England, by the work of Eriksson, have improved," he said. "The last defeat of England was a long time ago. They have players of spectacular quality." But ones which he feels his team are clearly able to dominate, although he anticipates a "hot" match and not just in terms of the weather.

Scolari explained his method of working. "I am a good coach," he said. "In my career I have delivered good results. I have won some important titles, but mainly I am a good friend of the people who I worked with. In 99 per cent of the places where I stayed, everybody liked me and I liked them because I am person who is very open and happy."

The head of the family was stating his case, laying down his beliefs and philosophy. Above all, Scolari, a deeply religious man, has "faith in his work". He also had a message for the Portuguese people. "Believe in these players," he said. "Trust them. They always do their best. Have a positive spirit." And if Portugal win? "If we beat England it would be one of the three greatest achievements of my sporting career, my life," Scolari stated after a pause for reflection. He did not have to add that the previous two - winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and reaching the final of Euro 2004 with Portugal - also involved beating England along the way.