Over five centuries have elapsed since the explorers Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama sailed round the southern tip of Africa for the first time, linking up the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in the process. Now the Portuguese hope to celebrate once again in South Africa by going further than ever before.
It is a long time since the tempestuous waters of the area originally called the Cape of Storms by Bartolomeu Dias was renamed the Cape of Good Hope, but that sums up the feeling the Portuguese have as they depart on a new adventure. This time the challenge takes place on a small green rectangular patch of grass rather than a vast blue ocean when football again will bring the world together. Portugal will play their first two games in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, just next to the sea that provided so much torment and glory for the Portuguese of old.
History being a never-ending process, the first FIFA World Cup™ finals to take place on African soil starts on 11 June. It is a continent with close connections to Portuguese football, ranging from the Mozambique-born Eusebio, top scorer at England 1966, to Nani from the Cape Verde Islands. Indeed, so many talented players were born on a continent that is growing ever stronger in the beautiful game.
Having guided South Africa to the 2002 finals in Korea/Japan, Carlos Queiroz (also born in Mozambique), knows as well as anybody about Africa’s footballing potential. The Portuguese coach is well aware of the importance and difficulty of the task facing his side in their opening 2010 FIFA World Cup game.
Côte d'Ivoire provide the opposition in Port Elizabeth on 15 June, and Queiroz has already acknowledged that the Elephants are a team to watch out for after a promising finals debut at Germany 2006. Although Didier Drogba and his team-mates did not get beyond the first round, they impressed in the narrow 2-1 defeats to Argentina and the Netherlands. In addition, Côte d'Ivoire demonstrated their fighting spirit by coming back from two goals down to beat Serbia and Montenegro.
“It’s not only my view. Many experts think there is a good chance that Côte d'Ivoire could become the first African side to reach the semi-finals of a Wold Cup,” said Alex Ferguson’s former right-hand man, when asked about his team’s initial opponents at South Africa 2010.
Few dispute that the first game in any world finals is often crucial, and with this in mind Portugal arranged three friendlies against African nations in order to fine-tune their preparation. This after squaring up to China in March in order to prepare for their second Group G match against Korea DPR.
Their first friendly against well-drilled Cape Verde Islands ended goalless and now A Selecçao das Quinas must step up to the plate. On Tuesday, Portugal will face Cameroon in Covilha before heading off to South Africa, where they will play one more warm-up match. That game will be against Mozambique in Johannesburg before the Portuguese begin their bid for a first ever FIFA World Cup crown.