With Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari in the hot-seat, the Portuguese hosts successfully negotiated their way to the Final at UEFA EURO 2004. And although the unfancied Greeks stole the European crown from right under their noses, the setback did not prevent Scolari and his men from easily overcoming their next hurdle: qualification for Germany 2006. The 12-game campaign brought nine wins, three draws and a healthy goal difference of +30, due in no small part to an 11-goal contribution from target man Pauleta, the top scorer in the European qualifying rounds.
Having seen their heroes stroll to the finals for the fourth time, Portugal's expectant fans were confident the class of 2006 could emulate the achievements of Eusebio and Co in reaching the semi-finals at England 1966, the country's maiden FIFA World Cup finals appearance.
Led by the charismatic Luis Figo, they did just that, topping Group D with three hard-fought wins over Angola, Iran and Mexico. Close as those results were, there was no doubting that the Portuguese were a force to be reckoned with, as a battling Netherlands side found out in the Round of 16. A solitary Maniche strike was enough to see off the Dutch and set up a last-eight meeting with England, just two years on from their EURO 2004 clash at the same stage. And once again it was goalkeeper Ricardo who provided the inspiration in yet another fraught penalty shootout, sparking hopes that Portugal might just go all the way to the title this time. Blocking their path, however, was a determined French side led by Zinedine Zidane, the inspirational Zizou stroking home a first-half penalty to end the dream. Portugal bid farewell to the tournament with a 3-1 defeat to the hosts in the match for third place.
The Portuguese then made a sticky start to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008, drawing to Finland and losing to Poland to set the fans' nerves on edge. Three consecutive draws against Armenia, Serbia and Poland had the alarm bells ringing as the prospect of place in the finals in Austria and Switzerland receded. Nevertheless, Scolari's scholars steadied themselves with crushing defeats of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and secured their passage with relative ease.
In addition to their fine run at EURO 2004, Portugal have reached the semi-finals of the continental championships on two other occasions: France 1984 and Belgium and Netherlands 2000, with les Bleus accounting for them both times en route to lifting the trophy.
After breezing through the opening round in Austria and Switzerland, losing only their final game to Switzerland with a reserve team, Portugal were fancied to go all the way, but a quarter-final defeat by Germany sent them home earlier than expected. They will face the campaign for South Africa 2010 with a new coach, after Luiz Felipe Scolari was unveiled as the new coach of Chelsea for 2008/09.
The immediate future looks bright for the Portuguese. The vast experience of the likes of Deco, Maniche and Costinha, together with the youthful, but polished, exuberance of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Nani, points to a seamless transition from the old guard to the new, one that ought to ensure recent standards are maintained. The road to South Africa 2010 should also see a clutch of new faces stake compelling claims for international recognition, Ariza Makukula and the outstanding prodigy Bruno Gama among them.