The birth of Portugal’s golden generation

A quarter of a century on, Portuguese fans still remember the date 3 March 1989. And with good reason. That was the day when the country’s U-20 side, coached by Carlos Queiroz, claimed Portugal’s first ever world title. When captain Toze lifted the cup in Riyadh, it was not just the perfect end to a memorable tournament. It was the dawn of a new era for Portuguese football.

While the team’s departure for the 1989 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia may have lacked fanfare, their arrival home was covered in glory. Portugal had become world champions for the first time, after an enthralling campaign in which they twice overcame Nigeria, the favourites for the competition (including once in the final), and eliminated Brazil in the semi-finals. In total the team conceded only three goals in six games.

On the silver anniversary of Portugal’s triumph, which the country would go on to repeat two years later in Lisbon, FIFA.com spoke to the winning coach Queiroz and team captain Toze.

A new beginning
Queiroz is considered the father of Portuguese football’s golden generation, which produced stars such as Joao Vieira Pinto, Paulo Sousa, Rui Costa and Luis Figo, among many others. The current Iran coach led Portugal to two U-20 world titles.

“The golden period of Portuguese football was remarkable. We worked hard to create the right system, and we saw how just how significant that generation was just a few years later, when most of the players established themselves at senior level,” the coach recalled.

“At the time the Portuguese Football Federation developed a culture that was not just about the present, but also the future, of the national team. This concept continues today, from the senior team down to the junior sides,” said Queiroz. And while not all the players who tasted glory in Riyadh went on to become superstars, they have all written their names in the history books.

I think for players like me, who never made it to the top in football, it was even more significant. We will always be remembered as world champions.
Toze, captain of the Portugal U-20 champions

That’s what Toze remembers. The captain of the 1989 side still plays football in the Porto district leagues and even if he never became a household name, there is one thing that no one can take away.

“It’s an achievement that will stay with me forever. Twenty five years after we won the title, it’s still hard to describe what it felt like at the time, although I can remember it as though it was yesterday. I think for players like me, who never made it to the top in football, it was even more significant. We will always be remembered as world champions,” said the midfielder, who was handed the trophy by the king of Saudi Arabia, as Joao Havelange, FIFA President at the time, looked on.

“I genuinely don’t remember what I felt at that moment. I knew we’d achieved something really special, something that very few people manage to do. Portugal weren’t used to winning in those days, so it was an unusual, but wonderful, feeling,” said Toze.

But Portugal’s adventure in Saudi Arabia was not just made up of great stories from out on the pitch. A quarter of a century later, Toze recalled some other special moments, one of which brought about Portugal’s only defeat in the tournament, a 3-0 loss against the host nation, in the last game of the group phase.

An unsung hero
“We only had one day’s rest before the game. When we woke up that morning, we saw a great cloud in the sky. It was a huge sandstorm, and I think that it ended up blurring our vision out on the pitch. It was a good excuse for the defeat, anyway!” laughed the midfielder, before remembering someone who may have been one of the minor characters in the Portuguese story, but who will never be forgotten.

“Our guide was fantastic. He helped us out of a sticky spot with the police on one of our days off, after we had been taking photos in front of a religious monument, something we didn’t know was illegal. He was with us from start to finish,” recalled Toze.

“Then, when I went down to the pitch after receiving the trophy, he was out there on the grass celebrating, as though he was Portuguese too. He followed us on our lap of honour, holding the trophy aloft, and even taking off his shirt. And so he should have, because he became part of the group. He was one of us,” said Toze.

Wherever he is now, Portugal’s guide in Saudi Arabia is sure to be among those who will never forget the date 3 March 1989. That was when he, along with every other Portuguese football fan, witnessed the birth of a golden generation.