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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:15

Portugal at the European Championships

Euro 2000 - The brilliant adventure cruelly curtailed

Nuno Gomes and Luís FigoIn the third of our five-part series looking back at the history of Portugal at the European Championships, we turn our attention to the tournament that truly kicked off a golden decade for the Selecção - the Euro 2000, jointly held in Holland and Belgium.

Despite the initial scare of a home defeat against Romania at the Estádio das Antas, the road to Euro 2000 was relatively straightforward. Portugal got to the final match needing to beat Hungary in Lisbon by a three-goal margin to qualify for the tournament as the best runner-up and avoid a play-off.

A red card for Pauleta shortly before half time did not bode well. But a packed Estádio da Luz again proved a talismanic stadium in terms of clinching the Selecção’s presence at a major tournament. Goals from Rui Costa, João Vieira Pinto and Abel Xavier guaranteed a second successive appearance at the European Championships, something Portugal had never before managed.
 
The draw for the finals, jointly held in Holland and Belgium, threw up a tough task for Humberto Coelho’s team. Portugal would play three games in the group phase against England, Romania and Germany, and at the outset few people would have risked more than half a dozen florins on the Selecção’s chances. Not only were the English and the Germans powerful opponents, but Romania had got the better of Portugal in the qualification phase.
 

The “click”

The moment Humberto Coelho’s team “clicked” was on 12 June 2000, in Eindhoven, around 20 minutes into the opening game against England. Two goals down early on, what happened next was truly historic: Luís Figo cracked in a phenomenal shot from miles out that left David Seaman rooted to the spot as it rocketed into the top corner.
 
João Pinto then produced one of his typical diving headers from a Rui Costa cross to equalise before the break. Nuno Gomes, who would be Portugal’s top scorer, made it 3-2 as he finished of a flowing move in style, with Costa again providing the killer pass. It was perhaps Rui Costa’s finest game in a Selecção shirt, and there are a lot of good ones to choose from.
 
Next, Portugal got revenge over Romania as Costinha’s late header in Arnhem gave the Selecção a 1-0 win. With a quarter-final place guaranteed, Humberto Coelho decided to rest nine first-teamers for the final group game against Germany. Madness? It proved a masterstroke as Portugal’s second-string players showed the coach they could be counted on, not least Sérgio Conceição, whose hat-trick put the Germans to the sword – and out of the tournament.
 

Goal-happy Gomes

Portugal were now flying. The way they had powered their way to the top of the group saw them installed as one of the favourites to win the whole shebang! That didn’t change after seeing off Turkey 2-0 in the Amsterdam Arena, with Nuno Gomes notching a brace and Vitor Baía saving a penalty in the first half.

 
World Champions and old foes France awaited in the semi-final. The Portuguese press made a point of evoking the epic defeat at the same stage of the 1984 European Championship.
 
Nuno Gomes, who didn’t miss a single opportunity to make a name for himself at Euro 2000, put Portugal ahead with a stunning goal on 19 minutes. Thierry Henri drew France level in the second half and only a flying save from Fabian Barthez denied Abel Xavier a heroic late winner.
 

Acrimonious end

Abel XavierInto extra time we went and with a penalty shootout looming, Xavier’s handball on the goal-line gave France a golden opportunity that Zinedine Zidane did not waste. A great game that Portugal could easily have won ended on a sour note as the distraught Portuguese players bitterly complained to the officials about what they deemed the injustice of the decisive penalty decision.
 
The dream was over, but Portugal had given their own fans, and football lovers the world over, a treasure trove of magical memories.

by Tom Kundert
 
Related: Portugal at European Championships series

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Comments (16)
Tony, Ca
16 Thursday, 31 May 2012 23:30
This team was brilliant with fluid passing and cohesive play. A very memorable game against France and we deserved better. I know this will upset alot of people but on that hand ball play Victor Baia had pounced on the ball before it got loose and resulted in a hand ball. I can't believe it gets overlooked --- if you don't believe it check in out on YouTube.


Anway, the attacking play and midfield was fabulous. No Nuno Gomes in his prime was the best striker we had during the 2000's.

I think the 2004 team and up to 2006 with Andrade and Carvalho in defense had a better back four over 2000. Look at what happened in 2002 at the WC.

As far as CR and Figo compares two different players tough in terms of intl impact I will take Figo but CR still has time. CR is a one dimensional player while Figo is an all around player with vision who can make the players around him better. Rui Costa is one of the best midfielders of his generation. Two sublime players like Costa and Figo with Nuno Gomes in form make a huge difference over what 2012 has to offer.
Rui Costa
15 Thursday, 31 May 2012 09:36
I think discussions about who was best of Ronaldo or Figo is neither here nor there in my view. But glad to see the praise for Rui Costa, such an underrated player IMHO, I think he was one of the best midfielders at the time anywhere. One of the best passers the game has ever seen.

@ Jeff Jose haha, wasn't far off, I was in Reading at the time. I'm sure there is a sizable number of us Portuguese around the UK on that day that were on their own surrounded by English fans in a pub.
Figo and Portugsl 2000
14 Thursday, 31 May 2012 03:37
This was our best team! I'll never forget being at the airport and people speaking out loud and to one another at how amazing Portugal played. EVERYONE was memorized by our game. it was a great moment! CIRO from BRAZIL, I couldn't agree more about FIGO. RUI was also very special. GOOD LUCK BOYS! May luck finally be on our side this time.
Joyfull memories
13 Thursday, 31 May 2012 03:04
So exhilarating.
So painful.
Tears of joy flowed and the dreaded tears of heartache flowed as well.

This was a wonderful squad. They were able to push or hold the ball. Extremely good ball movement to go along with good player movement.

Cristiano is a better overall talent, but he doesn't yet have the mental fortitude that Figo had. Figo was a leader on and off the field.
Please don't get me wrong, Cristiano will be mentioned with the all time greats while Figo won't.
But I will say that people tend to anoint today's players a bit to fast. Just because they show flashes and even dominate for a while, it doesn't mean they can maintain that level throughout a season nevermind career. Nani comes to mind as that type of frustrating player.

I'm a huge Rui Costa fan. His decision making was exceptional on the field. A special talent. Portugal still hasn't found an attacking mid since Deco left. I thought that Danny would have been that guy but our managers put him out wide. Sorry I digress.

This Seleccao squad was incredible and deserved better.

Thank you for providing the great look backs. The pieces have been incredible. It's great reliving the memories.
That Game
12 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 22:03
Pissed off a lot of my friends but in the end they had to admit thart England were outclassed .

The second goal was indeed a thing of beauty .

Portugoal , please can you skip 2004 ( well the final at least ) and let's move on to 2008. 8 years after .... it still hurts
The Xavier hand ball
11 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 20:58
I was in a resort in Cuba with my then g/f (now wife) during this tournament, screaming my head off when Portugal stormed back against England, the Nuno Gomes winner almost put me out of the resort! LOL

What bothered me about that hand ball call, was 1 it was not intentional and 2 it was called from across the pitch by the ref. Anyhow, its gone but they deserved better in this tournament and again in a couple years when they lost again against France on the Carvalho "trip" on Henry.

Joao Andre - i am with you on Rui Costa (also my all time fave) he is so very underrated, the man was simply brilliant and the best passer i have seen. Ask Gabriel Batistuta who is the greatest passer of all time, he owes alot of his goals to Rui. We miss the Maestro the most....
Figo like zidane is not a goal scorer but superior to Ronaldo
10 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 17:14
C. ronaldo better than Figo that is a pure joke. am not going to enter into discussion. can you mension 5 classy player of c.ronaldo generartion. please after Messi and kaka add more three and i will congratulate you.

thank God that both player played for madrid and coached by Mourinho, go and ask them. figo played in a generation of player like Laudrup, savicevic, zidane, ronaldo, boban, suker, delpiero, rivaldo etc.. if am to mention all those talents i would have to finish another day.

figo played in the best spanish la liga not this laliga of a two team, played against better players and teams in europe. Go and investigate yourselves. am just westing my time over this thing
Euro 2000
9 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 17:03
This was a great PORTUGAL TEAM, enjoyed watching every game. Hand ball on Xavier against France was 50/50 call. I don't think the 2012 team has the same SKILL or PASSION of the EURO 2000 team. Portugal has been lacking since WC 2006, we need a RUI COSTA / DECO replacement and a striker you can depend on. This is what is what is missing.
Euro 2000
8 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 14:32
Portugal's squad at this tournament was probably it's best ever...they took arguably one of the greatest national teams ever (France 98-2006) to the brink, and if not for some luck and close calls, they would of beaten them...Figo really made a name for himself at this tourney, and that goal versus England is what turned not just the tournament around, but the national team program as a whole...if that goal doesn't fly into the top corner, then their is no come back win (IMO the most memorable and exciting game in Euro history by Portugal), they don't have the momentum to beat Romania and then slaughter Germany...people took Portugal seriously after this tournament, it made them world beaters, whereas before they were never looked upon as world class...this was a great tournament and hopefully we see them pull off the same kind of upsets this year...I also have to agree that Pinto's header versus England was the best goal of Euro 2000 and one of Portugal's best ever goals period.
Portugal vs. England
7 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 13:19
For myself that was the start of many fun Portugal v. England memories. Sadly our national team has on several occasions looked very likely to win a title to only lose out on a close margin. I hope this year is different.
2000 vs 2012
6 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:55
@Nathan, please forgive me, but you must be dreaming.

Whereas I do agree that Ronaldo is a better player than Figo, he lacks two things: 1) the temperament to carry his team. I do not call him a prima donna for his teatrics on the pitch, but they do not help his team. 2) the capacity to improve those around him. Ronaldo got better in the last few years, but he still is not the team player Figo was. Note though, that I am no big Figo fan, I much prefer Rui Costa.

On the subject of the team, however, there are more points. There is no playmaker in the mould of Rui Costa, neither for Portugal nor anywhere else. Those players have been "reassigned". Moutinho is a completely different type of player, much more Paulo Sousa like. Then, despite Portugal not having a striker as good as Nuno Gomes, the truth is that he hit is top at this tournament. Postiga could conceivably be such a player for one moth, with luck. He is that sort of player. On that regard, Portugal needs essentially luck. What is missing is a player like João Pinto. The most understated of his generation but, in my opinion, the best. Scored, gave assists, created acres of space with his movement, was a threat on the run, the turn, the dribble and even heading. And he was very much a big game player. There is absolutely no player like him playing for Portugal presently. The closest in characteristics is Danny, and he is not there.

Then there are the other things missing. Vidigal may not have set the world alight, but he was solid throughout the tournament, as were Paulo Bento and Costinha, much more so than Veloso generally is. The back four misses a leader in the mould of Fernando Couto and Bruno Alves is an accident waiting to happen. Dimas was no world beater, but was solid enough to play for Juve and more reliable defensively than Coentrão. Conceição vs Nani, though, gives advantage to the second.

The main point: in 2000, Portugal had a more evenly balanced national team, capable of managing the pace of the game, both by accelerating it and by slowing it down. This team does not have such a style. On top of that, this team depends on goals from three sources: Ronaldo, Nani and midfield runners. It's short. In 2000 there were others, there was more variety.

Portugal will be lucky to go past the group stage. That said, however, a semi-final spot should be expected, as group A is by far the weakest.
Figo's goal
5 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:42
Figo's goal kickstarted everything, so it was good that almost nobody noticed at the time it had been less phenomenal than thought. Figo did lash out a prodigious hot, but the slight deflection it got from Adam's leg (I think it was Adams) did help. At the time I realised this, but most people kept on thinking it was a brilliant goal.

João Pinto's goal, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing. 14 passes, perfect cross and brilliant diving header. The best goal of that tournament by far.
then vs now
4 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:02
So, to summarize, Portugal in 2000 essentially had a great playmaker in Rui Costa, a world class winger in Luis Figo, and a great striker in Nuno Gomes.

Now, we've got the world class winger in Ronaldo (who for me is better than Figo, even at his height), we just need a playmaker and striker to step up to fill those voids. Who's it gonna be? Oliveira? Postiga? And can Moutinho be that playmaker that we really need in central midfield? I'm telling you, if the aformentioned players have breakout tournaments, I think we could win this thing. Just need them to perform, and maybe a little luck.
What a team!!
3 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 11:53
Quite simply: the best Seleccao team I have ever seen! This was imo the tournament we really should have won, and we were better in 2000 than four years later when we hosted the event (when we often relied on home advantage). In 2000 we were the best team at the tournament, playing great fluid and attacking football...and for once this notion of us not being able to score goals went out the window...we scored goals for fun at that tournament!

Nuno Gomes was a revelation, and to this day I still believe he deserved to start ahead of Pauleta in subsequent tournaments, as he had much more of a big-match temperament than Pauleta did. Figo, Rui Costa and Conceicao were at the peak of their careers. And Humberto Coelho did a great job as coach.

Sadly we had terrible luck against France in the semis, we were the better team in the match, and just when it looked to be going to penalties, they had the fortune of getting a penalty right at the death. But was a great tournament for us nonetheless with some great highlights including the comeback win over England and embarrasing Germany (who needed a result) with our entire reserve team (not only were we already qualified before the kick-off, we were already guaranteed first-place in the group!). Great memories indeed and still my favourite tournament ever!!
Memories of THAT England game II
2 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 11:49
Haaaaa! @ Alexandre - that's uncanny - same thing happened to me! I was the only Portuguese in this English pub in Camden, London...had friends with me, all English plus the pub patrons - only my amigo from Trinidad, honorary Poruguese for the day - was celebrating!!! Unbelievable comeback, almost brings tears to the eyes reminiscing. Let's pray they do even more this June...FORCA PORTUGAL!!!
Memories of that England game
1 Wednesday, 30 May 2012 10:14
That England game was the most intense moment as a fan of the Seleção I have ever experienced. In England, in a bar surrounded by English fans including some university friends, I was the only one sporting a Seleção kit and was taunted no end when England were 2 nil down. But what a comeback! What a feeling! Every insult hurled my way by full time was a compliment.

Could have turned ugly, but it is a memorable experience and one I relish to remind my English friends of.

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