Boa Morte believes smile can last all the way to Euro 2004

Fulham's Portuguese striker has hit form at the right time to be a contender for the tournament at home
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The Independent Football

A good death. A sportsman with that killer touch. And here comes the smiling assassin. Luis Boa Morte, the Portuguese flier who has been terrorising defences - and, by the eager admission of his own manager, annoying opponents - all season, enters the room.

"In Portugal people call me Pereira - my last name," he says, with a ready chuckle, when asked about his nomenclature, "because Boa Morte is a bit of a hard name to be called." Nevertheless, he has been applying the finish to Fulham's recent brand of high-octane football. Five goals and as many assists. How they missed him in their last two matches.

Now his hamstring is less sore and he will face Manchester United at Old Trafford today. Team-mates know him simply as Boa, and Boa has been good, very good. "We try to go like this," he says, pointing upwards. "It's just a few games so far, so it's hard to say whether it's my best season and how it is going to end. But it's true, I'm happy with the way I'm playing." That smile again.

His timing has been as arresting as one of his muscular bursts. Next summer it is Euro 2004 and, aged 26, Boa Morte is securing his place in the Portuguese squad. A sixth cap was earned in the extraordinary 5-3 victory over Albania and he speaks coyly of his chances.

The competition is fierce given a surfeit of attacking players: a certain Luis Figo, plus Deco, Pauleta and Simao Sabrosa. Then there are the teenagers, Hugo Viana of Newcastle United - Fulham's midweek opponents - and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.

The expectation in Portugal is palpable. Boa Morte frowns. "People are excited but they are worried as well," he says. 'There has been massive investment in football and the economy with all the new stadiums. But people are worried because they will not be used afterwards. So it's very expensive, seven new stadiums - it's a lot of cost for the country."

For the players, with no qualifying campaign, it has been surreal. "We are not feeling pressure, although we know we have to play for the first place, to win it," Boa Morte explains. "We are just waiting for the draw and then after that we can look at it in a different way. It has been hard just playing friendly matches because there is not the three points, and it is difficult to play games that are not really competitive. In friendly games people are bound to avoid some tackles."

Boa Morte, who has four brothers and two sisters, arrived in England on his own aged just 19 - only a year older than Ronaldo is now - to play for Arsenal. "It was a bit difficult, a bit weird. All very different from Portugal. But it was another challenge and I was ready for it," he says.

It didn't work out. He made 40 appearances - 26 as substitute - and although it looked as if he was finally settling, starring in an FA Cup tie at Preston, Arsène Wenger then went out and bought Davor Suker and Thierry Henry.

Still, English football suited him. Even if London is not exactly Lisbon. "But I'm working here and I have to be professional," Boa Morte says. "It is quite dry, the winter in London, and quite humid in Portugal so I would prefer to live there, of course! Other things are also completely different - the food, for example. But you have to get used to it, especially when you go to the hotels on a Friday or Saturday before a match for supper."

There are few of his countrymen playing over here. "But that is only because Spain and Italy are much closer," he says. "But there, I think, it would be more difficult to play. I think so - although I think the Spanish and the English leagues are the best in the world. The teams try very hard here and, all the time, the crowd chants as well."

The pace - for such a quick player - was a shock. "It is different from watching it on television, it's a lot faster," he says. "Also the game is allowed to go on, the referee does not blow his whistle so many times." One thing he would change is the season's length. "There is no Christmas break, and players get tired with all the games," Boa Morte says. "But I think it is good that this season we will not play on 1 January. And I can have a glass of champagne!"

It has been champagne football of late - even if Boa Morte's game is laced with something with a little more bite. One startling statistic is that since joining Fulham three years ago for £1.7m from Southampton, he has made 142 appearances for club and country, incurring more cards - 36 yellow and three red - than goals - just 34. Then there is the forthcoming Football Association hearing after appearing to stamp on Leicester City's Frank Sinclair (who has since spoken out on his behalf). Boa Morte, amazingly, has sought advice from his old friend from Arsenal, Patrick - nine red cards - Vieira, on controlling his temper.

"I know, I know," he says when asked about his ability to, well, irritate. "They [opponents and crowd] get annoyed but I don't have any problems with them. That is part of the game. Being aggressive but in a good way."

It is not something that concerns his former captain and now manager, Chris Coleman. Far from it. "He has always been one of those players that if he plays for you then you love him, but if he plays against you then you hate him," he says. "But he is such a bubbly character and has been thriving."

The admiration is mutual. "There is a good team spirit," Boa Morte says of the Coleman culture. "Of course it is different from last season because every manager has a different way of seeing football, different ideas. He has his own mind and wants to change things. He's been doing really well. He's quite young and probably that is one of the keys to him being successful. He is almost the same age as the players and he probably understands more the stuff we are doing and what we need because he is from a different generation than [Jean] Tigana [his predecessor]. That gives him an advantage."

The advantage is being pressed. "Yes, definitely, although we don't feel we have to prove anything to anybody," he insists. "We just have to prove it to ourselves and at the moment we are sixth in the table. We first have to make sure that we don't get relegated. That is the priority, to stay in the Premiership, and after that, top 10, Uefa Cup, Champions' League, Champions!"

It's said in rapid jest. He stresses: "Of course, the main target is to be in the Premiership next season. So we need to try and get as many points as we can get at the start of the season because every year there comes a time when every team shakes a little bit. So we need to get it right now." To do that they need Boa Morte to keep finding that killer touch.

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