Portugal draw strength from past

Twenty years since clinching their second consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup title, Portugal head to Colombia 2011 intent on reaching the global summit once again. To mark the occasion, FIFA.com caught up with two players to have featured in both those triumphs, Fernando Brassard and Joao Pinto, who offered up some valuable advice for Portugal’s current contenders while reflecting on their own achievements.

As landmark days go in the history of the Portuguese game, surely few can compete with 30 June 1991, when 120,000 expectant fans packed into the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon to witness A Selecção das Quinas defeat Brazil on penalties and claim their second successive FIFA U-20 World Cup crown. That victorious side would soon be dubbed the country’s ‘golden generation’ and the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto went on to enjoy stellar careers at the highest levels of the game. Now, two decades later, a new generation of talents is about to attempt to follow in their footsteps, hoping to relive the emotions felt by players whose pictures once hung proudly in their bedrooms. 

The context is, of course, different this time around, with Carlos Queiroz having led the 1991 side to glory just two years after they had become world champions in Saudi Arabia. Ilidio Vale’s charges will begin their Colombia 2011 campaign without a comparable feat behind them, but they remain determined nonetheless. “We intend to do everything to meet our goal,” said Vale. “It would be extraordinary to repeat the results of 1989 and 1991, but the situation has changed. Portuguese players have less playing time in the major championships, which leaves us with a real deficit in terms of experience.”

The first challenge for the European side will be to graduate from the potentially tricky Group B, where Uruguay, Cameroon and New Zealand lie in wait. Caution will therefore be paramount if Portugal are to avoid facing an early trip home. “This team’s biggest strength is its collective organisation and humility,” said Vale. “Right now, it’s important for my players to be confident and fear neither the name nor the accomplishments of the teams they’ll be facing.”

Expert advice
Whether that will be enough for Vale and his troops to go on and lift the trophy remains to be seen, as precious few ever get to experience the thrill of winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Fewer still manage to do it twice, but Portugal boast two players who are living proof that anything is possible. Goalkeeper Fernando Brassard and forward Joao Pinto were both present as A Selecção das Quinas prevailed in Riyadh and Lisbon, and they have plenty of pointers for their young compatriots about to set out on the same trail.

I believe in this Portugal team, I know the squad well and I know they have plenty of qualities. If they can string a run of wins together, anything could be possible. 
Fernando Brassard, Former Portuguese international

“The secret to our double victory was the cohesion of our squad,” Brassard told FIFA.com. “That’s what made the difference at the most difficult moments. I know that there’s a very good atmosphere within the current team as well.”

Employed by the Portuguese Football Federation as a goalkeeping coach, Brassard is well placed to comment on the present crop, and in particular the trio competing to serve between the posts: Luis Ribeiro, Tiago Maia and Michael Domingues. “We have complete faith in them and I know they’ll be up to the task,” he said. “I’d like all three of them to already be at better known clubs, but I know they’re ready to meet this challenge.”

Above all, he is keen for them to repeat the success he enjoyed at the same age. “Those were without doubt the two greatest moments of my career. And that final in Lisbon, against Brazil in a packed Estadio da Luz was the icing on the cake.”

Joao Pinto has similarly fond recollections of that encounter. “It’s something that will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life,” he explained. “People still talk about it now, 20 years on, so that should tell you something. I think our performances encouraged a lot of Portuguese people to try to repeat the adventure.”

Indeed, many of the youngsters now preparing for Colombia 2011 will no doubt commence their campaign inspired by the achievements of Joao Pinto and Co. "The 1989 and 1991 teams should serve as an example to the current side,” added the former Benfica and Sporting CP stalwart. “If we were able to win those titles, especially the one in Riyadh, which was especially tough, then they have to have the same belief.

“Above all, they need to be proud to be representing Portugal in a global tournament. If they’re there, it’s because they’re good enough, and they need to get the idea in their heads that the title is within their reach. Confidence is an absolute must.”

Brassard is slightly more prudent, however. “They mustn’t look too far ahead. The game today is nothing like it was 20 years ago. Young Portuguese players have trouble breaking through in their own league, whereas the Argentinians, Brazilians and Colombians are already starters in their respective top divisions. I believe in this Portugal team, I know the squad well and I know they have plenty of qualities. If they can string a run of wins together, anything could be possible.”