Scolari eyes win with Portugal

Luiz Felipe Scolari is eyeing a feat which could get him a category of his own in the World Cup record books.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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Luiz Felipe Scolari is eyeing a feat which could get him a category of his own in the World Cup record books. The Brazilian coached his own country to its record fifth Cup triumph in 2002. He's going to Germany at the helm of Portugal's national team aiming to become the first head coach to win the trophy with different teams. "I have a shot at that. Let's see how things go and whether I deserve it,'' Scolari said. He is one of the world's top coaches. His track record prompted an approach last month from English soccer officials seeking a replacement for Sven-Goran Eriksson. Dazzling skills FIFA ranks Portugal as one of the world's top 10 teams. Under Scolari, the Portuguese have added a pragmatic edge to the dazzling skills that won broad acclaim and led them to be nicknamed "the Brazilians of Europe.'' The 59-year-old took charge in February 2003 and within two years guided Portugal to the final of the 2004 European Championship, where it lost to Greece. The Portuguese were unbeaten in their World Cup qualifying campaign, racking up nine wins and three draws. They tied with the Czech Republic in the European zone for the highest number of goals scored (35). And Portugal, which is on its best run of results ever under the Brazilian, has a relatively easy group at the World Cup with Mexico, Iran and Angola. "Scolari is one of the greatest coaches I've come across,'' said Luis Figo, a former FIFA World Player of the Year who came out of retirement to help Portugal qualify. "He's straightforward and plainspoken and, above all, a friend to the players. He was one of the most important factors in my comeback,'' Figo added. Though the Portuguese are expected to advance beyond the group stage, Scolari notes that the team previously qualified for only three World Cups and, with a population of just more than 10 million people, doesn't have the talent pool of bigger rivals. "I don't make Portugal a favorite, but it is one of the quality teams that could reach the final,'' Scolari said. "Even so, there are teams which have greater depth and we're going to the World Cup only for the fourth time while others have been 17 or 18 times.'' Besides finishing runner-up at Euro 2004, Portugal reached the semifinals at Euro '84 and Euro 2000.

But World Cup experience counts for a lot. "There will be more hurdles and difficulties (in Germany) than at Euro 2004. We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground, especially the players,'' Scolari said. No need to tell Figo that. The Inter Milan midfielder was in the Portugal team that made an embarrassing first-round exit at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Despite being favored, it lost group games against South Korea and the United States, though it trounced Poland 4-0. "Whenever we've been in apparently easy groups, we've always had problems,'' Figo said. "Smart people don't make the same mistake twice,'' he added. Portugal has stars who hope to shine bright in Germany. Apart from Figo, there's Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, FC Barcelona's Brazilian-born midfielder Deco, goalscorer Pauleta of Paris Saint-Germain, and a backline that boasts Chelsea defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira. Despite all the acclaim, though, Portugal still has no silverware and this is the first time it has reached two consecutive World Cup tournaments. It hasn't gone beyond the group stage since 1966 when another Brazilian coach, Otto Gloria, guided it to the semifinals, largely thanks to legendary performances of Eusebio.

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