When it was confirmed that Sven Goran Eriksson's term as England coach was to be curtailed there were two outstanding candidates. One of them, Guus Hiddink, arrives at Wembley tomorrow with his reputation as high as ever but the man who was actually offered Steve McClaren's job has found his star slipping.
Luiz Felipe Scolari continues to be quoted at short odds by bookmakers, should a new England coach be sought, but Portugal's form since the World Cup has been as unconvincing as England's. The Euro 2004 finalists are in equally grave danger of failing to qualify, despite being drawn in an even weaker group than England. They trail the Group A leaders Poland by four points, after being held to a draw by Leo Beenhakker's side in Lisbon on Saturday. Finland, managed by Englishman Roy Hodgson, are second, two points ahead of Portugal, with Serbia a point behind in fourth. Tomorrow Portugal host Serbia.
Since the World Cup, Scolari's team have won five of 11 matches, defeating Brazil in one friendly but drawing with Kuwait in another. This season they have drawn twice, on Saturday and in Armenia last month.
So far Scolari has not come any great pressure in Portugal. This is partly a reflection of his prior achievements, and of limited expectation in a nation unused to footballing success, but also due to his ability to play the local politics. Scolari is regarded as taking Lisbon's side in the enduring stand-off with Porto, and Lisbon is where the Portuguese FA and most influential national media are based. It is also expected he will quit next summer regardless of the national team's results, probably for England, though not necessarily for the national job.
That may be wise. Before Saturday's match Scolari said: "We have a minimal margin of error." The goalkeeper Ricardo then made an 89th-minute error to hand Poland a point. "It's a result that feels like a defeat," said Scolari, adding: "My players only did what was possible. We had the chance to put ourselves in a great position but, unfortunately, because that's the way football is, we could not win. That is the way soccer is. There is no explanation."
One can only imagine the reaction if McClaren comes out with such gobbledegook should England fail to win tomorrow.Reuse content