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Scolari's balancing act
Portugal's friendly against England at the Algarve stadium in Faro Loulé next month will be the first game played in the region's new stadium, which has been custom-built for EURO 2004. But coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has attached even greater significance to the match by saying that it will be an important test of his side's prospects going into the tournament.
Friday, 16 January 2004

As host nation, the pressure on Portugal is immense and the appointment of Scolari, who guided Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, has raised expectations even further. But Portugal - who open the finals against Group A opponents Greece on 12 June - have been lacklustre in recent games and Scolari has been criticised for some decisions, especially his continued omission of Porto goalkeeper Vítor Baía.

Portugal's pedigree is clear, of course. They were semi-finalists in the Low Countries four years ago and the performances of Portuguese clubs in Europe over the last few years have been promising. Porto won the UEFA Cup last season and have progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League this term, while Benfica are in the third round of the UEFA Cup.

The national team are arguably at a crossroads, however. Porto's young right-back Paulo Ferreira was named in the team of the year and Cristiano Ronaldo, Hélder Postiga and Hugo Viana will all be around for many years to come. But for the so-called 'golden generation', EURO 2004 may well be the last chance to win a major international tournament. Skipper Fernando Couto will be 35 this year, while key midfield players Rui Costa and Luís Figo both turn 32. 

Scolari's biggest challenge will be to find the right balance between these experienced players and the promising youngsters. Portugal's Under-21 side are among the favourites to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Germany this May and Scolari has already selected a number of these youngsters with Miguel, Tiago, and Ricardo Quaresma all given a chance to impress. 

Whatever he decides, Scolari has shown he can handle pressure. He was under no little strain prior to the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Brazil had struggled to qualify for the competition but Scolari came back from the Far East with the trophy and will know from that experience that tournament performances are the only ones that really count.
- By Rui Matos Pereira




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