Scolari will be missing key players in the quest for hat-trick over Eriksson

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Luiz Felipe Scolari is looking to complete his hat-trick over England, and Sven Goran Eriksson, the man who he could so easily have replaced. After triumphing when leading Brazil in winning the last World Cup and with Portugal on the way to the final of Euro 2004, the two now meet again in Saturday's quarter-finals.

Expectations were high going into this tournament for the Portuguese. Maybe too high. After all this is only their fourth World Cup and the first time they have gone beyond the group stages since 1966. But a place in the last eight, at least, was assumed. They have now got that, though England will note that the playmakers Deco and Costinha will not line up against them following their red cards last night.

Crucially for Portugal, they have gradually improved. The patchy victory over Angola, after a second-minute goal, was followed by a better showing against Iran, a wonder strike by Deco, and the win over Mexico to top the group followed by last night's result. Scolari has been credited with changing the players' mentality and, having done so, still relies on the core of the Euro 2004 team often keeping faith with those, such as Maniche, who had had poor seasons with their clubs. The midfielder's rehabilitation has helped.

Portugal do not usually stray from a well-drilled 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been a show-boating disappointment so far and suffered a thigh injury last night, which may keep him out of the quarter-final, and Luis Figo in support of a lone striker, Pauleta.

Figo, 33 and apparently washed up after being substituted three times in a row in Euro 2004 and announcing his international retirement, has been in resurgent form. With Ronaldo's randomness, Figo has once more been the team's main focus. His hunger has returned. He looks fit and focused and will be a real threat. Portugal will hope, too, Scolari's wiliness may prove to be the decisive factor.

Comments