One of the highlights of December's Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, though perhaps less so for the teams involved, was the emergence of a mouthwatering section containing Brazil, Portugal, Côte d’Ivoire and Korea DPR.
The prospect of 25 June’s clash between A Seleção and A Selecção das Quinas in Durban in particular sparked a huge amount of column inches, thanks to the countries’ historical connection, recent encounters between the two teams and the clutch of Brazilian-born stars turning out in Portuguese colours.
Anderson Luis de Souza, better known as Deco, is one such player, a man inextricably caught up in the Brazil versus Portugal debate throughout his career. Born in Sao Bernardo do Campo in Sao Paulo state, the midfielder arrived on Portuguese shores at the age of 20 in 1997 and stayed until 2004.
It was in March 2003 that he was controversially called up by compatriot Luiz Felipe Scolari to play his first game for Portugal: a friendly against none other than Brazil. Underlining the strength of character that has marked his hugely successful career, Deco joined the fray as a substitute and scored the winner in a 2-1 success.
In addition to that baptism of fire, Deco started another Portuguese victory over the country of his birth, a 2-0 friendly win in London in February 2007 that inflicted Dunga’s first defeat as Brazil coach. Yet there has been despair as well as joy in these encounters, and the Chelsea midfielder will remember well a humbling 6-2 mauling in Brasilia in November 2008.
All in all, FIFA.com could barely have picked a better person to comment on the teams’ South Africa 2010 showdown, and assess Portugal’s chances of emulating their run to the last four at Germany 2006.
FIFA.com: Deco, you were part of the Portugal team that reached the last four at the FIFA World Cup four years ago. What do you remember about that tournament?
Deco: The World Cup is something else. It’s the biggest thing a national team player can aspire to: there’s nothing to compare to it. I put in some good performances but that competition was also a bit of a struggle, as I took a knock early on in the tournament that prevented me from finding my best form. But I do remember it being an excellent World Cup for us. We played well in the semi-final and only just lost to France. In the end the only goal went to them and we missed out on reaching the final. In general terms it was an excellent World Cup.
What are the main differences between the squad that travelled to Germany 2006 and the one that will go to South Africa 2010, both in terms of the players and the respective coaches: Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlos Queiroz?
A lot of the players in the Portugal squad in 2006 are no longer part of the set-up, so we’ve got a lot of players who’ll be playing in their first major competition. I think that the quality is just as high, though we don’t have the same level of experience we had in 2006. The same could be said about our dugout: Felipão (Scolari) had already won the World Cup with Brazil and led Portugal at [UEFA] EURO 2004, while this will be Queiroz’s first big competition at the helm. But he’s an excellent coach who’ll have a very good squad of players at his disposal. That’s why I think we’ve got all the necessary ingredients to be successful.
Do think Portugal are among the favourites?
No, because the favourites are those national teams with a World Cup pedigree, something that Portugal, who have never won the Trophy, don’t have. So, we can’t be considered among the favourites. That said, we do have a team boasting plenty of quality, with great players and which can go a long way at the finals.
Given the talented players that Portugal have had over the years, what has prevented them winning major titles at senior international level?
Listen, it’s not easy to win the World Cup. After all, there’s a good reason why so few countries have done it so far. There are great teams that have never won a World Cup, because often the difference can be made by tiny details, like having a bit of luck at a decisive moment. It’s hard to put your finger on.
There has been a lot of talk this season about Real Madrid’s alleged dependence on Cristiano Ronaldo, but the same be said of Portugal?
We won several games without Cristiano and equally we’ve won games with him on the field. Nowadays you just don’t get big teams depending on just one player. Manchester United have done very well since Ronaldo left, Madrid have won games without him, as have Portugal. Of course you notice the absence of any great player, there’s no doubt about that, but the Portuguese national side isn’t dependent on him. It’s only natural that teams want their best players available and miss them when they’re not. That being the case, given he’s one of the world’s best players, he is important to us.
The Brazil-Portugal game is packed with sub-plots regarding Brazilian-born players now turning out for Portugal. As a veteran of this debate, will the experience of having played against A Seleção on three occasions prove useful?
It’s an interesting experience, no doubt about it, but a friendly is totally different to a game at the World Cup. It’s good that I’ve already gone through that experience and already know what it means to play against Brazil, the difference that it makes. But the World Cup is still a different story. Anyway, we mustn’t think that there’s any negative feeling, on the contrary. I’m Brazilian but I took the nationality of a country where I spent many years and which gave me everything. That’s all there is to it. At the end of the day, it’s just another big game. To be honest, at the moment I think our opening game is our biggest challenge. If we can win our opener against Côte d’Ivoire, we’ve got a great chance of progressing. Whichever team loses that match will find it very difficult to reach the next round.
As you say, Portugal kick off against Côte d’Ivoire and round off their group-stage campaign against Brazil, currently second in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Then in the Round of 16, a Group G side could find themselves up against the team at the top of that Ranking: Spain. What is the feeling in the camp at the prospect of facing so many big names in a short space of time?
We’re not worried about anybody. If that’s who we have to play, we’ll just get on with it. If you go to the World Cup thinking about who you’re going to play and trying to pick your opponents then you’d be better off staying at home.
At club level, do you see yourself eventually returning to Brazilian or Portuguese football?
I’m going to go back and live in Brazil for personal reasons, because my family’s there and I’ve been in Europe for 13 years now. I’ve got a huge amount of affection for Portugal and the city of Porto in particular, where I’ve got a house, but I was born in Brazil and my family is there, as is my social project the Deco Institute, in Indaiatuba. I want to go back and that’s what I’ll do when my Chelsea contract runs out in 2011. And if I’m fit enough to do a job for a Brazilian team then I’ll come back and play too.