Despite some disappointing performances in recent years,
Portugal remain one of the most respected nations in European youth
football. Three European titles at U-16, two at U-18 and one at
U-17 level is a record any county would be proud of. On top of
that, there is the Lusitanians' equally impressive history at
U-20 level, which saw them claim consecutive FIFA World Youth
Championships titles in 1989 and 1991.
After a seven-year absence, Portugal will make a welcome return to youth football's premier event when it fills one of Europe's berths at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada. There, they will be hoping to recapture the glory days of 1991, when Luis Figo, João Pinto, Rui Costa and co. combined to defeat Brazil in the final and claim the world title on home soil.
The know-how of coach José Couceiro at this level, allied to the international experience of youngsters like Bruno Gama, Hélder Barbosa and João Pedro, could provide the winning formula for a Portuguese side looking to build on the feelgood factor that has surrounded the country's football scene since UEFA EURO 2004.
Portugal booked their place at Canada 2007 with a modest performance at the UEFA European U-19 Championship in Poland last June where, after being drawn in a difficult Group B, they managed to draw all three of their group games. Their resulting third-placed finish in the group was insufficient for them to advance to the tournament's semi-finals, but was enough to see them secure one of the continent's berths for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The Portuguese began their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Scotland, before sharing the spoils in a pulsating 4-4 draw with Turkey. After leading for the entire game, the Iberian side were denied victory by a Turkish equaliser five minutes into stoppage time. They again led in their final group game, against eventual winners Spain, before conceding an equaliser shortly after the interval (1-1).
Carlos Dinis was the coach who guided the team in the qualifying phase, but José Couceiro will be the man on the bench for Canada 2007. He was appointed in August 2006 and is dreaming about leading the Portuguese to glory in the Great White North. But he is also careful to point out that his side are not one of the favourites. "We must not put pressure on the team by creating high expectations. We can't forget that some of the players have begun to play with their clubs only recently and most of them do not play very often."
Couceiro started his coaching career in 2002 in Alverca Futebol
SAD. He promoted the club to the National league and later he led
Victoria de Setúbal. FC Porto snatched him up in 2006 and last
season he also trained Os Belenenses, where he was also a
professional player. He also lined up as a player with Sporting CP,
Atlético and Estrela Amadora.
Midfielder Bruno Gama is a veteran of the side that won the European U-17 title in 2003, and since then he has gone from strength to strength. Blessed with searing pace and superb technique, he frequently sits in behind the front men in the classic No. 10 position, although he is equally effective on the right wing. Armed with a powerful shot, which he is capable of dispatching with either foot, Gama is also intuitive and precise with his passes, crosses and assists.
What they said...
"Our aim is to get a good collective result. We know we have players with great potential and most of them can reach a really high level. In Canada, we want to reach the round of 16 and after that, we will go match by match. Despite the good results in the past, I do not want to put heavy pressure on the team". Head coach, José Couceiro.