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Going for gold
As Portugal prepare to host EURO 2004 there is one phrase that Portuguese midfield regular Sérgio Conceição does not wish to hear.
Thursday, 18 December 2003


"There is no Portuguese 'golden generation' and there never was, at least not at national level, because we haven't won anything," the 29-year-old Lazio player told, referring to a squad which has promised much but is yet to deliver. "If we win the European Championship next year, then you can call us the Golden Generation, but recently the French have had more right to that title."

The 'golden' label was first attached to the successful Portuguese youth side of the early 1990s, containing the likes of Vítor Baía, Jorge Costa, Rui Costa, João Pinto, Luís Figo and Conceição's Lazio team mate Fernando Couto. And in one sense at least, Sérgio Conceição knows they have not underachieved. 

"At club level, it's a different story," said the right-sided player, who has won over 50 caps for Portugal. "Figo has won with Barcelona and Real Madrid, Rui Costa won the Champions League last season with Milan, while myself and Fernando Couto have won the Italian title with Lazio." 

UEFA EURO 2000 in the Low Countries was billed as the moment the generation would reach their peak at international level, and sure enough Portugal beat England before hammering reigning champions Germany thanks to a Sérgio Conceição hat-trick which remains the player's finest career memory. 

After losing on a golden goal to eventual champions France in the semi-finals, expectations remained high for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. But in Korea/Japan, despite a 4-0 victory over Poland, Portugal lost to the United States and were eliminated after a 1-0 defeat by the Korean Republic. 

"As with every team in the world, luck is fundamental, and that is what we didn't have in the World Cup against South Korea and I hit the post in the final minute," said Sérgio Conceição, who was one of few players not to be harshly criticised after the game. "Such things change your destiny." 

Back in Italy after the World Cup, Conceição played a second, less than fruitful season with Internazionale before returning this year to Lazio, where he had won the Serie A title in 2000 before leaving for Parma. And with Roberto Mancini's side now out of the Champions League, EURO 2004 is looming large on the horizon. 

Once more, hopes are high in Portugal with the 'golden generation' players – many of whom will be competing in their last major finals – hoping that the injection of new talent in the form of players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Viana and Simão Sabrosa can finally help them lift a senior trophy. 

Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has been doing his best to weave the old and the new but, with only friendly games since the World Cup, Sérgio Conceição is concerned that Portugal may lack sharpness. "When you have to qualify you are more focused," he said. "And since we have a new, foreign coach it would have been useful for him to see all the players he has available next summer." 

For Sérgio Conceição, the hope is that home advantage will help to give their EURO 2004 campaign wings. "To have twelve million Portuguese, the whole country rooting for you has got to be a good thing," he said.
- Tom Kington




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