world cup echoes

A Portuguese review

Shades of 1966

PORTUGAL IN general and the Algarve in particular, stood still exactly seven times during the world’s most watched sporting event. The presence of holiday makers of many different nationalities, as well as large communities from former colonies, ensured that the country’s tourism hot-spots enjoyed colourful and well supported encounters at every turn.

The opening group matches against Angola, Iran and Mexico resulted in three victories, setting up a first knock-out confrontation with Holland, whom many experts had tipped to go all the way. As the action got under way in Nuremburg, Portugal’s streets emptied rapidly. Portuguese, Dutch and neutrals congregated in front of specially erected giant screens, tv’s in bars and restaurants or at home to watch the unfolding drama. Maniche scored mid-way through the first half, sending an enormous roar into the night sky, before the game turned into a pitch battle. In total, the Russian referee issued a world record 16 yellow and two red cards, but Portugal hung on for a bloody victory.

The quarter-finals brought about a fateful meeting with England, who had been very much the underachievers of the tournament. History was against Sven-Göran Eriksson’s men, two recent European Championship defeats at the hands of Portugal, extending a win less run dating back to the 1966 World Cup semi-final at Wembley. And again Portugal made much the better start, English frustration and bad luck culminating in David Beckham leaving the pitch injured and Wayne Rooney following shortly afterwards, after being dealt a red card. Yet the game remained goalless, heralding the advent of a sudden death penalty shoot-out.

Portugal keeper, Ricardo, emerged the hero, as he had done in Lisbon two years ago, stopping Lampard, Gerrard and Carrager, to secure victory and spark instant street parties from Oporto to Vila Real de Santo António. As towns and cities all over the country vibrated in a sea of red and green celebrations, many white-shirted holiday makers and residents were infected by the good-natured euphoria, joining the fun, while others returned to their hotels and houses dejectedly.  

France became the semi-final opponents blocking the way to Portugal’s first ever final, and somehow the weight of expectation proved too much for Figo’s warriors. As the seleccao struggled to find its rhythm, a Zinedine Zidane penalty ended Portugal’s German adventure. All there remained for the disappointed thousands making their way home quietly was a consolation third place match against the host nation, who had also been eliminated at the same stage by Italy. The atmosphere on the streets was completely different on the eve of that farewell appearance, the tension and anticipation having largely evaporated amongst the formerly fanatical population. The team too, seemed to have lost its self-belief, as Germany steam-rolled to victory in Stuttgart. Two second-half Sebastian Schweinsteiger blasts sandwiched a Petit own goal, Nuno Gomes scoring a late consolation goal from the retiring Figo’s pinpoint cross.

Another dream was over, but the departing golden generation had equaled the great Eusebio’s feat of having reached a World Cup semi-final for only the second time in Portugal’s history as the sun set on their careers.