Figo sets his sights high
As a former FIFA World Player of the Year, Inter Milan and Portugal midfielder Luis Figo has all the experience required to be one of the stars of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany.
The gifted playmaker and most-capped Portuguese international of all time will be hoping his wealth of experience will be a decisive factor in leading his team to glory in Germany. In this exclusive interview with FIFAworldcup.com, Figo discusses Portugal's failure at Korea/Japan 2002, his admiration for national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his country's chances of success this summer.
FIFAworldcup.com: You are one of the Portugal team captains (coach Scolari generally rotates the armband between Figo, Pauleta and Costinha). What is your relationship with Scolari like?
Luis Figo: Very good. I think we have a relationship based on friendship and respect. He's someone who likes to talk to the players a lot and have a strong, united group - almost like a family. He really understands football. Just look at his achievements. He's won the World Cup and been a runner-up in the European Championship. I think we're extremely lucky to have such an experienced guy like him leading us.
What do you make of the other teams in Portugal's group at Germany 2006?
I honestly don't know anything about Iran, as I've never played against them. We don't tend to play against teams from that part of the world but we'll have time to study and analyse the way that they play before the World Cup begins. Mexico will be one of the favourites to get through to the next round. I've played against them a few times and they have some technically excellent players who have done really well in important tournaments over the past few years. There are a lot of Angolan players currently playing in Portugal. Angola's a former Portuguese colony, so I imagine a lot of people back home will be unsure as to who they'll support. Like all the African teams, they're physically very powerful and will obviously have to be respected.
For teams like Brazil and Argentina anything less than winning the FIFA World Cup will be considered a failure? What are Portuguese expectations? What would you consider a successful campaign?
Portugal are not at the same level as Brazil and Argentina, because we don't have the same sort of World Cup finals experience as those two countries. As far as I'm concerned, the only really successful outcome would be to win the tournament. Any professional footballer has to have that attitude, while also taking into account that there are other teams out there who are more likely to win than we are. Still, you never know what might happen. Portugal don't have the same wealth of talent to choose from as Brazil or Argentina, because we don't have a population anywhere near as big as those two.
Go to the Portugal team page
But we all have high hopes of winning, regardless of nationality. It goes without saying, though, that if we reach the last four then it won't have been a bad tournament for us. That is exactly what Scolari said during EURO 2004 - that the main aim was to reach the semi-finals and anything else Portugal achieved would be a bonus. It's so important that we go one step at a time. First we need to get through our group. If we fail to do that, like we did last time around, then our World Cup will have been a complete failure. Once we've managed that then anything can happen in the knockout stages.
In 2002 Portugal arrived at the FIFA World Cup on the back of an excellent campaign at EURO 2000 and with a team containing what was widely regarded as the golden generation of Portuguese football. Now you're coming into this tournament having enjoyed another superb European Championship and a very good qualifying campaign
(Interrupts the question) Let's hope that what happened last time doesn't occur again.
But what went wrong in Korea/Japan?
From start to finish, everything went wrong. So we need to learn from that and not make the same mistakes again. What happened in 2002 is history now, we need to move on and learn from both the good and bad things that happened back then.
With the exception of yourself, who do you think will be the star of the FIFA World Cup, or even the star of the Portuguese team?
Hopefully Portugal will be the star. I mean that in a collective sense, because to have a good World Cup we'll need the whole team to perform, and not just one or two individuals.
And are you already thinking about it? Have you imagined yourself on the pitch and scoring a goal in Germany?
No, because I've got so many other things to think about before then. There's no point in thinking about what might or might not happen in a tournament that's still three months away.