Early Exit leaves Portugal with much to ponder

(Soccer365.com’s Martin North) Four summers ago, Jose Mourinho traded his Portuguese employers for greater challenges at Stamford Bridge. Fresh from Champions League success and brimming with confidence, he immediately set about his task of quenching Roman Abramovich’s insatiable thirst for silverware. Now, Luiz Felipe Scolari will embark on the same journey, but under entirely different circumstances.

by Martin North

Portugal’s elimination from Euro 2008 signaled Scolari’s last involvement before he takes the Chelsea reins on July 1st. Press conferences with “Big Phil” are typically off-the-wall, but his unveiling at Stamford Bridge is likely to be a soberer affair than the “Special One’s” arrival in 2004. Failure with another talented Portuguese side will rile the highly competitive Brazilian. Even more depressing is the task that awaits him at Chelsea.

After the first trophy-less season since 2003-04, Abramovich ruthlessly sacked Avram Grant only three days after the agony of Moscow. Grant’s successor is charged with not only wrestling back domestic superiority from Manchester United, he must also conquer Europe, Abramovich’s supreme goal.

The prospect of achieving that target this season hinges on Scolari’s ability to forge team unity despite the inevitable comings and goings this summer. The Stamford Bridge hierarchy is keen to improve Chelsea’s image, but the attitude of “us against the world” that Mourinho fostered is unlikely to change under Scolari. The Chelsea players will either buy into his philosophy or risk falling foul of his notorious temper. Some may prefer to make way before the “Felipão” show comes to town.

Now at Inter, Mourinho is supposedly busy courting Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. Drogba seems certain to leave. Lampard has openly expressed his interest in a move abroad. Scolari will not have long to assess those left behind. He is already familiar, however, with the Portuguese contingent on Chelsea’s books.

Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and the incoming Jose Bosingwa all took part in the loss to Germany. Although Bosingwa and Carvalho were generally solid, Scolari will have been less impressed with Ferreira. The makeshift left-back was at fault for the first and third Germany goals. It will be a surprise if he remains anything more than a squad player at Stamford Bridge.

Portugal suffered from a chronic over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo. For all of Deco’s myriad talents, goal-scoring is not one of them. Simao Sabrosa was a shambles, his tournament thoroughly disappointing after an excellent season at Benfica. The lack of a world-class striker was obvious as Portugal missed two glorious chances that bounced off Joao Moutinho’s knee and Pepe’s head.

Scolari must take his share of the blame. His refusal to withdraw the hapless Simao was strange given his celebrated decision to remove Luis Figo from the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against England. When Moutinho picked up an injury in Thursday’s first half, Scolari choose to replace him with the honest but limited Raul Meireles instead of the hugely talented Miguel Veloso. Two goals down at the time, Scolari should have shown more adventure.

Only a moment of brilliance from Ronaldo kept the Portuguese in the game. His superb control and run into the heart of the German defence created Nuno Gomes’s goal and turned the half time momentum in Portugal’s favor.

After the break, Ronaldo found it much harder to influence affairs. The majority of Portugal’s attacks were directed through Deco and Simao, often disintegrating when faced with some highly organized German defending. Portuguese moves were either bottlenecked down the middle or moved out wide where wayward crossing did Ronaldo no favors.

The Manchester United star will now face infinite questions over his future until he reveals his intent. He came to Austria and Switzerland determined to prove his accepted status as the world’s best player. If Ronaldo is looking to move, the Golden Boot would have been a persuasive incentive for Ramon Calderon to reach for his checkbook.

As it is, his tally of only one goal from Euro 2008 may serve to remind Ronaldo that Manchester United’s attacking philosophy and the Premier League’s intensity suit his game particularly well.

If he does stay at Old Trafford, Ronaldo will face his former national boss when United travel to Stamford Bridge on September 20th. By then, both will be fully focused on their domestic duties. Early success in the title race would give one of them a head start in forgetting the disappointment of this summer.


  • Confi

    There were a couple of fouls that should have been penalties in Portugal’s favor that were not called. Also, Germany’s last goal should not have counted, Ballck pushed the defender with both hands on his back to get the header. Sad end to Felipao’s career at Portugal.