Profiles - World Cup Teams - Portugal
Portugal 'We must stop being the best and come first instead', Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira said of his side's preparations for their third crack at the World Cup in 2002.

With a side full of big names playing in Europe's top clubs, and dubbed the Brazilians of Europe by fan and foe alike for their ball-playing skills, the Portuguese are determined to turn their undoubted prowess into results.

Portugal's played their first World Cup finals in England 1966 tournament, where the underdogs upset many favourites to finish third place after legendary striker Eusebio thrilled the crowds and bagged nine goals to be the tournament's top scorer.

On the European front, Portugal blazed their way to the Euro 2000 semi-finals, where they lost to eventual Cup winners France after defender Abel Xavier conceded a golden goal penalty by handling the ball in extra time.

To go one better, Oliveira said he had no intention of tinkering with a side full of big names playing in Europe's top clubs, which finished on top of Group 2 after an undefeated run of qualifying matches.

'The team is built around playing open football, with two wingers and one striker, backed up by playmaker Rui Costa and by Luis Figo's dribbling power and inch-perfect passes,' he said.

'To field two strikers I would have to restructure the team and use another scheme, because some one would have to go. So I prefer to make changes while games are under way,' he said.

Pedro Pauleta will probably spearhead the attack, leaving Nuno Gomes in reserve on the bench, even though the Fiorentina player has come on in his last three international games to score seven times.

In the Andorra qualifier, 'super-sub' Gomes scored four goals, the first player to do so in an international match since Eusebio, who bagged four against Korea in England 1966.

Oliveira will be able to test his line-up in at least four warm-ups with Angola, Spain, South Korea and a final friendly set for April, probably against a South American finalist.

The team's star is midfielder Luis Figo, whose explosive mixture of speed and dribbling past opponents either culminates in deadly passes or spectacular goals, like the winner in Portugal's 5-0 qualifying win against Estonia in which he lobbed the ball over the keeper's head.

'Every world or European champion has had the world's best player of the day. Now we too have the world's best player (Figo), so let's see how the 2002 World Cup finals go,' Oliveira said.

Figo and many other team mates are at the peak of their careers, and can combine experience in a tightly-knit team which has been together for more than 10 years.

But the finals in Japan and Korea may be the last chance to shine for the so-called 'golden generation' which graduated by winning the world under-20 championship in 1989 and 1991.

The likes of Figo, AC Milan playmaker Costa, Sporting striker Joao Pinto, Porto defender Jorge Costa and Lazio defender Fernando Couto will all be into their 30s by the time the World Cup rolls in June, and the next European Championships are staged in 2004 - in Portugal.

'It is maybe the most important time for a player to go to the world finals. Fortunately, I have achieved great success at club level, but I have yet to have that chance at international level,' said Real Madrid player Figo. homepage