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Monday, 28 May 2012 08:38

Portugal at the European Championships

Euro 1996: Sexy football undone by Poborsky

Portugal at Euro 1996In the second of our series looking back at Portugal’s past participations at European Championships, we move on to the 1996 tournament held in England, and the first appearance of the so-called 'golden generation' at a major tournament at senior level.

Considering Portugal had only once before made it to a European Championship, the Selecção booked their place at the Euro 1996 in England with unexpected ease. António Oliveira, in his first spell as head coach of Portugal, guided his team through a qualifying group that included the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Latvia, Austria and Liechtenstein.

Six victories, two draws and just one defeat in their first nine matches set the scene for a final qualifying match at home against Ireland. On a night of torrential rain, the Estádio da Luz was full to the rafters, with an electric atmosphere thanks in no small measure to almost twenty thousand Irish supporters in full voice.
 
The scene was set for one of the most sublime moments in the brilliant football career of Rui Costa, who paved the way for a 3-0 victory with a breathtaking lob from over 30 yards out, leaving goalkeeper Kelly helpless. Further goals from Hélder and Cadete sealed a superb performance that guaranteed Portugal’s place in England.
 
 

Portugal fancied

The European Championship now involved sixteen teams, and the draw in Birmingham landed Portugal a group comprising Denmark, Turkey and Croatia. With the likes of Luís Figo, Paulo Sousa, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto and Vitor Baía well on their way to worldwide stardom, the Selecção found itself in the unusual position of being highly fancied to make progress.
 
The first game, in Sheffield, against reigning champions Denmark, was a vibrant, fairly disputed encounter with the outcome uncertain until the final whistle. It finished in a draw thanks to goals from Brian Laudrup and Ricardo Sá Pinto. It was during this game that Ruud Gullit, working for the BBC as a commentator, first coined the phrase sexy football, to describe the Portuguese style of play.
 
Straightforward victories followed, 1-0 over Turkey, thanks to a Fernando Couto goal, and a 3-0 thumping against an already qualified Croatia. Luís Figo, João Vieira Pinto and Domingos scored the goals on a hot afternoon in Nottingham. Portugal were ready and waiting for the Czech Republic in the quarter-final in Birmingham.
 
As group winners, the Selecção appeared to have hit the jackpot by avoiding Germany in the first round of the knockout phase. The Germans would end up winning the competition, and on the face of it, the Selecção had got the more preferable of their two possible opponents.
 
Portugal dominated practically from start to finish, but lost the match. In the second half, a rare Czech attack looked harmless enough, but a deflection off Oceano saw the ball land at Karel Poborsky’s feet. The skilful winger, who would later play for Benfica, spotted Vitor Baía slightly off his line and produced a wonderful chip over the Portuguese goalkeeper, who days later would be transferred to Barcelona.
 
Karel Poborsky scores against Portugal
Karel Poborsky's cheeky chip proved the winner in the Portugal-Czech Republic Euro 1996 quarter-final.
Portugal were left to rue their luck and a traditional flaw of the Selecção – the lack of a killer instinct to make good on their excellent approach play. But the “golden generation” had announced themselves to the world on the senior stage, and it signalled the start of their feats.
 
by Tom Kundert

Related: Portugal at European Championships series

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Comments (7)
fc
7 Saturday, 01 December 2012 23:25
seleccao de Portugal em 1996 oe o melhor seleccao no Mundo....
Long time ago
6 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 10:12
I was about two years old, but yeah my dad traveled to all the Portuguese matches in euro's, would so love England to host a tournament so I can just go and watch all the Portugal matches haha
If Portugal had a real world class striker to match our team of the Golden generation...
A new era
5 Tuesday, 29 May 2012 11:39
I remember travelling up to both Hillsborough and Villa Park with possibly every single Portuguese male in the UK ( and quite a few attractive females . My Dad and me went on a coach trip organised by the local Portuguese Club .A large amount of Vinho Tinto was drunk that day i recall ( well it was a warm day ) and stories from the old days recalling the days of ’66 in what was probably the golden era in Portuguese . Even the club rivalries were suspended for that day.

The atmosphere at Hillsborough was one of the best i had even experienced . It was first chance that many people like me had the chance to see the team live and the joy that went round the stadium as Sa Pinto equalised was something i would never forget
I've been to hundreds of matches here in England but i will never forget that match as long as i live .

The Portuguese were very much the dark horses of the competition and i think everyone's second favourite team . Certainly everyone i knew was eager to know about the team and the players after the first match

The match against the Czech republic was in the eyes of most Portuguese a foregone result and we were already eyeing a place in the semi finals . We turned up expecting to win and after we went a goal down we never looked like getting back into it .

A great shame but looking back it was the tournament that launched Portugal into modern era of football and 1998 aside we have never looked back .
Euro 96
4 Tuesday, 29 May 2012 02:58
We had the greatest midfield but also very strong defence and I recall that goal from Podborski, we had 3 defenders surrounding him and chasing him into the box and actually I think it was Couto who took the ball off of him but unfortunately it hit Secretario's shin and it bounced right back to Podborski who then shot and scored....how unlucky that was. That game could have gone either way.
Good article.
3 Monday, 28 May 2012 18:03
I would say ever since that Euro, we have had one of the best mid-fields in the world. As players have retired we have added the likes of Ronaldo and Nani to fill those shoes. Again the issue of missing a quality striker hunts our team. Pauleta was one of the few great ones we had but he never showed up for the big tournaments.

Again this year the striker is our weakest role. I hope the current group of guys do something different.
Agree with Article and Andre
2 Monday, 28 May 2012 16:01
I think the points in the article and by Andre in UK are spot on. Not much I can add but that this was a wonderful team with cohesive and fluild play. The lack of a dominating striker really did Portugal in. The midfield was fabulous with 3 world class players and Oceano in a defensive role. I think they could have gone to the final had they beat the Czech.
Great article
1 Monday, 28 May 2012 12:14
I agree completely with all the points. This was the tournament where Portugal finally arrived on the international scene, after almost 30 years of mass under-achievement. It was strange, during the 80s and early 90s our clubs were competitive in Europe (3 Champions League finals between 1987-1990), yet the seleccao continued to fail to qualify for tournament after tournament. This all changed in England that summer. We were the best team at Euro 96, certainly in terms of the football played, in what was a pretty unspectacular tournament with a lot of defensive play. But it is true, our performance there set the tone for what has largely followed with our seleccao since...plenty of attractive play and technical proficiency, but a constant failure to put the ball in the back of the net.

But what a midfield we had in 96: Rui Costa, Paulo Sousa and Figo. That was a fantastic trio who dominated every other midfield we came up against. Unfortunately the two Pintos up front were not prolific scorers, and this is what cost us in the end. We dominated against a defensive Czech team in the quarters but just couldn't score, before Poborsky's wonder strike settled the match. But Euro 96 started a new chapter for the seleccao, and we have been a force ever since. Let's hope this continues in a few weeks time...
Forca Sempre!!!

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