With over 50 appearances spanning nearly five years at various levels of the Portuguese youth national-team system, few know better than Nelson Oliveira what it means to represent his country. And if he has stayed at the top for such a long time there must be a reason, and that reason is a priceless footballing commodity: goals.
A key figure in securing his nation’s place here at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, thanks to a double in the vital 2-0 group win over Italy at last year’s UEFA U-19 Championship, Oliveira also had his shooting boots in June’s Toulon Tournament and recent friendlies against the likes of France and Côte d’Ivoire. The Benfica striker again stood out for Portugal - world champions at this level in 1989 and 1991 - in their opening encounter against Uruguay on Colombian soil, yet despite his best efforts a goal was to elude him.
Arguably offering the biggest attacking threat for coach Ilidio Vale, the No7 ran with the ball, combined with his team-mates and had shots and headers at goal, all to no avail in the 0-0 draw. “I couldn’t tell you what we were lacking in the first game. I know that I wasn’t short of support. I even had a good headed chance in the second half and should have put it away, but I didn’t have a good game,” a clearly disappointed Oliveira told FIFA.com, ahead of his side’s meeting with Cameroon on 2 August. “I want to make up for that with goals in our next games, which would really help our cause.”
And though the Lusitanians were unable to break down La Celeste, Oliveira felt they could draw encouragement from a second-period display in which they forced the Uruguayans onto the back foot and created opportunities – even after the sending-off of his fellow front-runner Sergio Oliveira. “We’re used to putting in performances like that second-half one. We’ve got enough quality to pass our way forward without having to resort to long balls. Of course we can’t always play that kind of football, but it’s something we should stick with,” said Oliveira, before giving his verdict on Portugal’s section rivals.
“In theory, Uruguay were our toughest opponents, but we still need to be careful,” he continued. “We saw some of the Cameroon-New Zealand match and they’re both good teams, but we’re sure we’re capable of beating them. We now want to get the win that would practically send us through.”
Strength in numbers
Buoyed by the determination shown after the interval against Uruguay, Oliveira believes the players’ togetherness could see them go far at Colombia 2011. This sense of unity has been forged by many of the squad having been together since the qualifying trail for last year’s European U-19 Championship began in September 2009.
“We’ve got a very united group. We’re always very close and we’re friends off the field. That makes us want to help each other more. This has always been our hallmark, ever since we started out nearly two years ago,” said the 19-year-old. “That’s why I’m not just thinking about scoring goals. Of course this World Cup is a great opportunity to catch the eye, but I prefer to concentrate on helping the whole team perform well. That way we’ll all go far.
“We may not be the most talented squad here, but we might end up being the strongest,” said Oliveira, staying on the theme of commitment and togetherness, as the interview concluded. “That collective strength could help us get the better of teams that are more talented than we are.”