After Portugal won two successive FIFA World Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991, many expectations were placed upon the country’s so-named “Golden Generation” of soccer players. Unfortunately for fans, successes failed to materialize and the team consistently underachieved.
Finally, in 2004 on home soil, Portugal made it the final of a major international tournament when they advanced to meet Greece for the European Championship. They lost 0-1, however.
In World Cup qualifying Portugal was up and down. Against tiny Liechtenstein they were humiliated as they blew a 2-0 lead and tied 2-2. Liechtenstein had never before earned a point in a World Cup qualifier. Portugal then proceeded to destroy Russia, a team immensely more talented the Liechtenstein, 7-1. Liechtenstein almost played the spoiler again last fall when they led Portugal 1-0 at the half. The Portuguese were finally able to come back and seal a 2-1 win with an 85th minute goal.
This summer’s tournament will most likely be the international swan song for veteran winger Luis Figo (Inter Milan), one of the leaders of the “Golden Generation.” The former FIFA World Player of the Year remains an adept goal-creator and his leadership will be heavily relied upon. Joining Figo in the midfield will be versatile Deco (Barcelona) and immensely talented 21-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United). Veteran striker Pedro Pauleta (Paris Saint-Germain), who broke the legendary Eusebio’s all-time scoring record of 41 goals for Portugal last fall, will most likely be the team’s top offensive weapon.
Led by Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Portugal’s defense will be strong. However, the back line is sure to miss the skills of Jorge Andrade, who injured his knee while playing for Deportivo La Coruna in March.
On paper, Portugal seems to have a good mix of players. If that translates to reality then this just might be their year.