Portugal play their first international game Saturday since the débâcle that turned out to be Korea. And the game couldn't be tougher ... England!
... or more important. Inter's Sérgio Conceição, one of the few players who returned from the World Cup with a degree of credibility intact, has said that this is the chance for the Portuguese to wash
away the bad feelings that surrounded the whole of the Oriental operation. In fact, such was the disgust and shame felt here both at the result of Portugal's campaign in July and at the manner of their elimination
(on-field chaos, behind the scenes turmoil), that it will take more than a victory against the English to reconcile the Selecção
and the Portuguese public, especially as the game is away (although in fact, it's probably for the best - had the game been at home, the players may well have had to put up with some serious stick). But it's a prime opportunity for them to take a first step towards reconciliation. They don't even have to win: a good and dignified display will probably be enough.
The team in detail:
(FC Porto): A controversial first choice for the World Cup, when Boavista's Ricardo was well installed in the qualifiers. Always looks a bit shakey on crosses and any situation in which a bit of physical risk is called for.
(Sporting): Will start as one of three centre-backs, tending to the right. Also a controversial first choice right-back in the USA game, but in fact acquitted himself reasonably well. A good start to the season with Sporting.
(Lázio): For once without his partner Jorge Costa, who has given up international football. Can be commanding in the air, but is slow on the ground and when turned. Took some of the blame for the USA defeat.
Fernando Meira (Stuttgart): Not included in the World Cup squad, but apparently well established for Stuttgart. Cool on the ball, if a little ponderous.
(Sporting): Normally a traditional left-back for Sporting, but will assume a more flexible role down the left versus England. Has only one foot. Excellent crosser of the ball, but can be turned when defending.
(Inter Milan): Used to a forward role, his task Saturday could be more like Rui Jorge's. Was a full-back at FC Porto before going to Italy. Good pace in one-on-one situations, and dangerous if he makes the line.
(Benfica): A revelation for Boavista last season, the Panthers have missed him chronically this. Not as influential at Benfica, but he has bottomless lungs and is a great ball-winner. Also capable of extremely hard tackles.
Rui Costa (AC Milan): In the autumn of his career, he hasn't been in top form for his country for some time, both due to injuries and what seems to be fatigue. But a match-winner when on song.
(Real Madrid): A million miles away from the brilliance of two seasons ago and thousands away from last season. Had a miserable World Cup (ankle injury) and looking jaded, but is due a re-birth.
(Benfica): Ruled out of the World Cup with a bad knee injury, he has come back brilliantly for Benfica. Best on the left wing. Absolutely scintillating pace and good control. A major threat.
(Bordeaux): Top scorer in France last season, he has always looked a little out of place at international level, notwithstanding some vital goals (e.g. his hat-trick v Poland in Korea). Hard-working and awkward to handle.