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Player profile: Joao Pinto

Joao PintoFull name: Joao Manuel Vieira Pinto

Position: Forward

Date of Birth: 17 August 1971

Birthplace: Porto, Portugal

Despite never tasting success outside Portugal, Joao Vieira Pinto should undoubtedly be bracketed in the same batch of players from Portugal’s so-called golden generation, along with the likes of Luis Figo, Fernando Couto and his great friend, Rui Costa.

Born in Porto, it was at the city’s second club, Boavista, that the lithe striker first impressed with his speed, excellent ball control and superb aerial game, despite his lack of height. In addition to these qualities, Pinto is fiercely competitive – sometimes overly so – making himself a thorn in any defender’s side.

Eye-catching performances in Portugal’s World Youth Cup triumphs in 1989 and 1991 earned him a transfer to Atletico Madrid, but he failed to make his mark in Spain. The experience did nothing to shake his confidence, and upon rejoining Boavista he enjoyed a memorable season, playing in every game, scoring eight goals, and winning the Portuguese Cup.

A move to one of Portugal’s big three was inevitable, and Benfica won the race for the striker’s signature. It would be in 1993/94 that Pinto earned cult-hero status at the Estadio da Luz, playing a starring role in one of Benfica’s greatest ever triumphs over their eternal city rivals Sporting.

An intense championship fight took a decisive turn when Benfica beat Sporting 6-3 at Alvalade, with Joao Pinto scoring a brilliant hatrick. Benfica were crowned champions and soon after the player dubbed The Golden Boy, was made captain of Portugal’s biggest club.

Few would have thought that Pinto would never lift another championship with Benfica, as rampant mismanagement plunged the club into over a decade of chaos without a title. The love affair between Benfica fans and Joao Pinto came to an abrupt end when he dramatically moved to Sporting in 2000.

Lethal partnership

In 2001/02 Pinto returned to his very best, forming a deadly partnership with Brazilian striker Jardel, helping Sporting to lift only their second championship in two decades. Pinto played all but one game, scoring nine goals.

It was to be Pinto’s last great season, and after being released by Sporting he made an emotional return to Boavista in 2004. A disappointing season followed, but Pinto defied the odds by bouncing back at the age of 35 to produce a string of excellent displays in 2005/06, scoring nine goals and earning his final move to Portugal’s emerging fourth ‘grande’ Braga.

International career

Although lacking the goalscoring records of Nuno Gomes or Pauleta for Portugal, Joao Pinto was still a key figure for his country for many seasons. A record of 81 appearances and 23 goals speaks for itself, and Pinto played in Euro 96, Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup.

He is perhaps unfairly often remembered for hitting Argentine referee Angel Sanchez at the 2002 World Cup, which led to a six-month ban from the game. But his many fans will prefer to look back on his decisive contribution in Portugal’s famous 3-2 comeback win against England at Euro 2000, where he scored a brilliant flying header in a victory that launched his team on a memorable run to the semi-finals.

by Tom Kundert (10/01/2007)


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