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Final hurdle for Figo
The finals of UEFA EURO 2004 will be the final major act of a number of fine players' careers, with many senior professionals choosing to retire from international football at the top. Perhaps none would be missed as much as Luís Figo, who may pull on a Portugal shirt for the last time next summer.
Friday, 5 December 2003


Should he choose to quit, the outrageously gifted Real Madrid midfield player will have timed his decision well. EURO 2004™ will be the first major international footballing event to be held in Portugal since the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship, and Figo could not deny that playing in front of home crowds next summer could give his international swansong an extra twist.

"Playing in front of Portugal fans in my home country is the best way to end my international career but a major trophy would be even better," he told "We reached the quarter-finals at EURO 96, the semi-finals at EURO 2000 and who knows, a place in the final maybe next year. That would be fantastic."

Major trophies at international level are the only gap in Figo's awesome collection of honours. One of the golden generation of Portuguese players who won the World Youth Championship on home territory, he and his team-mates have never quite brought the glory that they were expected to do at senior level. 

However, just raising the stakes for Portuguese teams was an achievement in itself for Figo. "We would love to win a trophy but for a country like Portugal just to have been at the big events in football is a great achievement," he said. "I hope that with the new players we have we can continue this."

Certainly, the Portugal side that takes the field at EURO 2004™ will be younger than usual, with many old stagers such as defender Jorge Costa bowing out after Portugal were humbled by hosts the Korean Republic in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. 

The draw for the UEFA European Championship has pitted Luiz Felipe Scolari's side with neighbours Spain, Greece and Russia. Against such powerful opponents, Figo fears that home advantage may count for little, saying: "To play at home is always an advantage and the momentum of the crowd and the atmosphere can really help a team, but you must remember there are some very good teams at this tournament and for Portugal to play sides like France, Italy, Spain or Holland under any circumstances will be difficult." 

Of course, when it comes to big matches against powerful teams, Figo himself will have little to worry about. The 31-year-old has learned all about pressure, winning UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup, European Champion Clubs' Cup and Spanish league titles with FC Barcelona and Madrid.

And he will need all of that experience this weekend as his former and current employers face each other in the Primera División. Having joined Madrid for €65m from Barça in 2000, Figo went from hero to hate figure at the Camp Nou. "For myself and Ronaldo, who are former Barça players, there is always a lot of focus in the press before the game but we try not to take much notice," he said. "We will approach this match like any other game."

If he can maintain that same approach as Portugal take to the pitch for next summer's finals, his swansong could yet turn out to be Figo's finest hour.
- Julia Court




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