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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fifa world cup 2006 England VS Portugal

The extent of the history between England and Portugal is such that the most difficult question is over knowing where to start.

Does one, for example, go back 40 years to the fateful meeting between Eusebio and Co and Sir Alf Ramsey’s side in the 1966 semi-final? Or perhaps just two years, to when the teams’ last meeting was settled by the most dramatic of penalty shoot-outs at UEFA EURO 2004?

That, of course, is without even mentioning the fact that Portugal’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has masterminded England’s demise at their last two major championships, or that he performed a very public U-turn when approached about succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson. That, indeed, is a story all in itself.

Intrigue is added to the mix for this particular encounter by the fact that England, by their own admission, have reached the quarter-finals without yet producing a performance worthy of a squad widely agreed to be the country’s most talented in a generation. We always want to play well it just hasn't happened for us at this tournament, David Beckham conceded this week. "We haven't played as well as we can and we know that. But we're in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and some very talented teams have gone out.

"In every way we can do better and we know it, echoed Eriksson. "You haven't seen the best of us yet and hopefully you will see it on Saturday. The key is that everything must work out well. Everyone will be important and I expect everyone to do their job out there for 90 minutes.

Portugal, meanwhile, are celebrating reaching this advanced stage of the FIFA World Cup for the first time in four decades, although they have been riled this week by English press coverage that described their team as "insubordinate and violent" after a tempetuous Round of 16 clash with the Netherlands that saw the yellow card brandished on no fewer than 16 occasions.

"Unbearable, unfair and preposterous," was the reaction that description prompted from Portuguese team spokesman Afonso de Melo, who also hit out at the Sun, England’s top-selling newspaper, for printing a ‘false’ interview with Pauleta in which derogatory quotes about Eriksson’s goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, were attributed to the Paris Saint-Germain striker.

Many believe that Saturday's game will be won and lost in a midfield area where the Portuguese are sure to be weakened by the absences of Deco and Costinha, and Beckham has admitted that keeping possession and dictating play long seen as a perennial English weakness is likely to be a key factor.

"It's up to us to pass the ball around well," he said. "We know, as a team, and as players, that we can do that, and doing it on a big stage like this is important because Portugal will pass the ball around well. It's in their nature, that's the way they play. They're going to have a certain amount of possession, but hopefully we will too."

Colours for the game
England: White shirts, navy blue shorts, white socks
Portugal: Port red shirts, port red shorts, port red socks

The teams England have been boosted by their first-choice right-back, Gary Neville, declaring himself fit to play after recovering from a calf injury. Owen Hargeaves, who deputised admirably for the 80-times-capped Manchester United defender against Ecuador, could now replace Michael Carrick in the midfield holding role.

Portugal, meanwhile, are likely to start with Petit in place of Costinha, and Scolari could ask Luis Figo to move inside to fill the creative void left by Deco’s absence, having seen the veteran Inter Milan midfielder excel in this role against Angola in his side’s opening match at Germany 2006. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, has been given an 80 per cent chance of shaking off a thigh injury picked up in that bruising battle against the Dutch.

The duel
When these sides met at EURO 2004, the most intriguing personal battle was that between Ashley Cole and Ronaldo, both of whom were evidently fit, fired-up and on top of their respective games. Two years on, neither is in peak condition, with Ronaldo having been forced off and reduced to tears against the Dutch by a high challenge from Khalid Boulahrouz, and Cole only just back from a long injury-enforced lay-off.

Nevertheless, the Arsenal left-back declared himself 100 per cent fit and feeling good after England’s narrow win over Ecuador, and there is no doubt he will need to be if Portugal’s skilful young winger is in the mood. Neville, a team-mate of Ronaldo’s at Old Trafford, had this warning for his England colleague: "The thing with playing Cristiano is that you can play brilliantly for 89 minutes and then he can produce that magic moment in the 90th. It is only when you come off the pitch, and he's not scored or set up a goal, that you can say you did well against him."

Past meetings
Over the past 45 years, these sides have met on ten occasions, four of which have been at major championships. England won the first, 2-1 at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, but Portugal have since gained ample revenge, winning 1-0 at Mexico 1986 and twice emerging triumphant at UEFA European Championships, 3-2 in 2000 and 6-5 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in 2004.

What they are saying
Sven-Goran Eriksson, England manager: We're trying to play good football but the most important thing we have to do is to win the football game. You don't get a premium for beautiful football. Ghana played wonderful football, vory Coast played wonderful football, Holland played wonderful football, Spain played wonderful football. And where are they now? At home. To win the World Cup I'm prepared to do whatever. If that means to play bad football, then come on, who cares?
Pauleta, Portugal striker: We are not afraid of anyone. If you know something of Portuguese history, you know we are a country that respects everyone and wants to be respected, and that we fear nothing.

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