I love the International Football tournaments! I’m a late bloomer in regards to football, I always watched the occasional game, rooted for my team (Sporting) or the National team, but it wasn’t until Portugal hosted the UEFA Euro 2004 that I really started to pay attention – me and most of my generation.
Four years before, however, is where the dream started. The UEFA Euro 2000, organized between Belgium and the Netherlands, saw the epitome of our “Golden Generation”. We won our three games from the group stage, winning with Romania and England, and given that we already had enough points to pass on, our coach rested some of our biggest players for the match against Germany, and we played with our so-called B-team, where Sergio Conceição, in a match that i still vividly remember, made an hat-trick, and we won 3-0!
That year we went to the semi-finals, where we played with France, and unfortunately lost, with a penalty converted by Zidane at the 117 minutes mark, due to a “hand” from Abel Xavier. To this day, this is probably still one of the most heated discussions you can have with a Portuguese supporter, because there’s no doubt that there was a touch, but what was in question was the intentionality of that touch, and the referee decided that Abel Xavier willingly put his hand in the trajectory of the ball, in order to stop its progress. And just like this, the Euro 2000 was over.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup is not even worth mentioning… it was that bad! And then came the UEFA Euro 2004, which was incredible, and most importantly, we had a kick ass national team!
Back then, Cristiano Ronaldo was just a 19 year old kid, playing in Manchester, that still wore the number 17 and didn’t have a permanent spot on the main team. The real stars were other names, such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Pauleta, Fernando Couto, Ricardo Carvalho, Rui Jorge or Ricardo. Just a year after he arrived to train the team, the brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari encouraged the people to believe and for the very first time really, we did! And we did so well!!! We got to the Final, having lost only 2 games throughout the whole competition, the first one and the last, both against Greece. On the way, we won with Spain, England or the Netherlands.
Two years later, we managed to qualify to the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany. Once again, Luiz Felipe Scolari managed what no one before him could: unify the country in front of the TV screens! Everywhere you went in Portugal, you would see the flags flying from the windows, scarfs in the cars and everyone supporting their players. This was going to be the goodbye to the last members of our “Golden Generation”, such as Luis Figo.
So, taking advantage of the fact that Angola also qualified and was on Portugal’s group, me and a big chunk of my family, flew to Germany, where we watched the first two games of Portugal and Angola.
We won all the games in our group stage and went to the round of 16, where we won with the Netherlands. Next was England in the Quarter Finals, and, as we were used to by now, we had to go to penalties. The country stopped! The man of the hour was our goal keeper, Ricardo, who not only kept 3 balls from coming in, he also did it without gloves! Unfortunately we lost with France in the Semi Finals, and then again with Germany and ended in 4th place.
In the UEFA Euro 2008 we stayed for the Quarter-finals, losing to Germany, and shortly after that we said goodbye to our coach, Luiz Filipe Scolari.
Four years ago, at the South Africa FIFA World Cup 2010, we stayed for the Round of 16, losing to Spain, who would become World Champion that year. The team, now over the direction of Carlos Queiroz, failed to reach the unity that had once had, and the coach had enough problems of his own with FIFA after the World Cup.
Soon after, Paulo Bento took over the team. The now coach is none other that number 17 in the first photo of this post! At the UEFA Euro 2012, in Poland and Ukraine, we reached the Semi-finals, losing again to Spain, who would become, again, European Champion.