All the signs point to Portugal heading to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 among the favourites, with the Colombia 2011 runners-up one of a clutch of nations determined to thrive in the absence of holders Brazil and perennial contenders Argentina. However, in an interview with FIFA.com, A Selecção das Quinas coach Edgar Borges hinted these heavyweight absences could render their mission even more difficult.
Beaten 3-2 by the Brazilians after extra time in the 2011 final, Portugal fly to Turkish soil aiming for go far once more. “Our expectations are obviously high,” said Borges, now the incumbent in a position held by Ilidio Vale in Colombia.
“We’ve managed to come through qualifying and, if we want to be among the world’s top teams at this level, we’ve got the responsibility and the duty to perform to the best of our ability in Turkey. We want to play good football and, of course, get good results at the same time.”
Arguably the biggest surprise of this FIFA Under-20 World Cup has occurred before the finals have even begun. Brazil and Argentina, who between them have won the global showpiece on 11 occasions, both failed to qualify, though the Portugal coach insisted this will not make the road to success any smoother.
“The fact Brazil and Argentina failed to qualify is a concern, because that simply means the teams that knocked them out are even better,” said Borges. “We can only imagine just how dangerous they are. It must have taken an excellent generation of players to have left the Brazilians and Argentinians out in the cold.”
So, what does he expect from Turkey 2013 and who are his favourites to claim the coveted trophy? “I'm more familiar with the European teams, obviously, as we took part in the finals of the European Under-19 Championships,” explained Borges.
“Matches against these teams will always be evenly balanced, as we’ve shown in the past. The European teams are all extremely good, as are the South Americans and Africans. It´s going to be very tough, and I´m sure qualification will be decided by the finest details.”
The philosophy and the principles
As a result, and given the strength of the qualified teams, the coach prefers not to reveal his specify targets and goals for the competition: “We are brimming with ambition and confidence and we’ll be trying to do Portugal and its football proud. Our major concern is making sure we do justice to the Portugal jersey.
“People are saying that, as we were runners-up last time, the only way we can improve is by winning the tournament, but that´s not entirely fair,” Borges continued.
“Every game can produce three different results, and the other teams are also trying to win too. All I can promise is that we will give everything we have and a little more besides. That´s a matter of pride. We have our qualities and our goals, so let´s just wait and see what happens, taking it one game at a time.”
Victors of two editions of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, in 1989 and 1991, can A Selecção das Quinas legitimately dream of a repeat performance? “Dreaming is a part of life. Those who don’t dream don´t progress and have no ambition, but building up too much expectation at this stage doesn´t make much sense. We are all realistic, we know what we’re capable of and what we are striving for.”
Team spirit was the Portuguese trump card at the 2011 tournament, a factor which enabled the likes of goalkeeper Mika – who was awarded the Adidas Golden Glove – and forward Nelson Oliveira to blossom and forge growing reputations on the international scene. Now, ahead of Turkey 2013, the coach wishes to maintain that ‘one-for-all’ philosophy.
“We try to instil a culture of winning into our players as part of the development process,” said Borges. “Players can’t be prepared to play at the highest level if they’ve not got this spirit. The team’s our star performer: there are no big-name individuals. Only by being united and in sync will we be able to dream of hitting the heights. We want to create a real team and this can only happen when everyone pulls together.
“We were a real team in 2011, really united. And when that´s the case, talented players come to the fore naturally,” continued Borges, as the interview drew to a conclusion.
“[Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have only achieved as much as they have by being part of great teams too. Figuratively speaking, we might even joke that if Messi were playing for a ‘Mickey Mouse’ side, he wouldn´t be the best player in the world. If the team’s working as it should, the most talented players naturally come to the fore.”