The rising force in Europe counting on their foreign legion; CHAMPIONSHIP COUNTDOWN: No 9 Portugal

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The Independent Online
If and when a technical director is appointed by the Football Association, the first date in his diary ought to be a trip to Lisbon. Portugal's system of youth development is becoming the envy of Europe; the players it produces gloriously gifted.

Yet Portugal were indulging in much of the hand-wringing that followed here after another failure by English clubs in Europe in the 1970s and early 80s until Carlos Queiroz was appointed to reorganise the game at youth and national level.

Porto's triumph in the 1987 European Cup could not be laid at Queiroz's door but the brilliant teenage sides that won the 1989 and 1991 World Youth Cups were, and so is the progress since by many of those players.

Rui Costa of Fiorentina, Luis Figo of Barcelona, Paulo Sousa of Juventus, Fernando Couto of Parma and Celtic's Jorge Cadete are all products of Queiroz's work and the fact that the Portuguese squad have three times as many players playing in Serie A than England is not just down to this country's greater financial clout.

Since Queiroz's resignation in 1994, his assistant Antonio Oliveira took over the national side and guided Portugal impressively through a European qualifying group that also included the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Twenty-nine goals were scored in 10 games that climaxed with a 3-0 defeat of Jack Charlton's Irish team.

Rui Costa and Figo were devastating in a match that torrential rain in Lisbon should have tilted in the favour of the stronger, if less gifted, Irish. Instead they were given a lesson in modern movement and technique to an extent that Charlton described the Portuguese as "the rising force in Europe".

Rui Costa is the fulcrum of most Portuguese moves alongside Joao Pinto, who is the exception to the rule in remaining in his homeland. The only player to win two World Youth Cups, he has remained loyal to Benfica despite overtures from many clubs including Liverpool.

Immediately behind them is Paulo Sousa, who was the Italian player of the year last year when Juventus won the championship. The ball-winner in front of the back four, he was described as "the best player in Serie A" by Napoli's coach, Vujadin Boskov, last season but has had injury problems this term and rumour has it he will be sold to Lazio in the summer. His form, or lack of it, will be crucial.

As it is, coach Oliveira's biggest problem has been playing down expectation from a Portuguese public who can count the years from the triumphs of youth and believe that potential should reach fruition either in England or in the World Cup of 1998.

Indeed, Oliveira is probably slightly relieved that the build-up to Euro 96 has been muted with defeats by France and Germany and a lacklustre 1-0 win over Greece. "In England we must be humble and be ready to suffer," he said after the Greek match. Pertinently, none of his foreign players were available that night.

Guy Hodgson

Player to watch

Rui Costa

(Fiorentina)

An inspirational figure in midfield with a record of a goal every three games at international level, Rui Costa won a Portuguese championship with Benfica in 1994 before being transferred to Italy's Fiorentina for pounds 5m in 1994.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers

Vitor Baia Porto

Rui Correa Braga

Alfredo Boavista

Defenders

Carlos Secretario Porto

Helder Benfica

Fernando Couto Parma

Paulo Madeira Belenenses

Paulinho Santos Porto

Midfielders

Oceano Sporting Lisbon

Jose Tavares Boavista

Dimas Benfica

Rui Costa Fiorentina

Luis Figo Barcelona

Paulo Sousa Juventus

Vitor Paneira Guimaraes

Forwards

Domingos Porto

Joao Pinto Benfica

Antonio Folha Porto

Pedro Barbosa Sporting Lisbon

Ricardo Sa Pinto Sporting Lisbon

Hugo Porfirio Uniao Leiria

Jorge Cadete Celtic

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