South Africa is more than 5000 miles from Portugal, and feels like the other side of the world, but it did not take long for Carlos Queiroz’s men to make themselves at home on African soil. Such has been the rapturous welcome afforded A Selecção das Quinas that over two thousand fans turned up to watch their training sessions and their final warm-up game, held in one of the cathedrals of South African cricket, was a sell-out. The passion of the Portuguese community in South Africa has already exceeded expectations as they wait impatiently for their heroes’ bow in the FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Of course, Portugal is a country whose reach extends way beyond its shores, and it is often said that there is a little corner of Portugal in every part of the world. An exaggeration, maybe, but there is more than a grain of truth in it as the Portuguese squad’s first few days in South Africa have shown. There are around 500,000 people of Portuguese origin in South Africa and the fervour whipped up in Johannesburg since Cristiano Ronaldo and company came to town has been more than a match for the fans back in Lisbon or Porto.
Hundreds of cars and motorbikes, all painted red and green, followed the squad from Johannesburg to their base in the city of Magaliesburg. This was just a glimpse of what was to come, as Sunday’s open-doors training session at Bekker High School was watched by 1600 lucky ticket-holders who cheered and sang with as much as passion as if they were watching a crucial game, and accompanied every pass and tackle with the sound of the vuvuzela.
If this was an incredible scene for a school playing field, Portugal’s final warm-up game on Tuesday provided further proof of the loyalty and affection the team enjoys in South Africa on a grander stage. They lined up against Mozambique in the splendid surroundings of the 34,000-seat BIDVest Wanderers Stadium, one of the shrines of South African cricket. And once again, the fans came in their thousands, ensuring that the game was a sell-out even before the serious football has started!
For their part, the Portuguese players and coaches have responded unequivocally to their fans’ affection. As well as putting in a fine display against the Mozambicans and getting into the winning habit with a 3-0 victory, Carlos Queiroz’s squad have wasted no time in reaching out to the Portuguese community in South Africa.Alone amongst the 32 qualifiers, A Selecção das Quinas have organised no fewer than four more open training sessions for fans running throughout the group stage, the first of which will be held this coming Wednesday at their Bekker High School base.
As well as giving supporters a close-up view of the world’s greatest players, major tournaments give teams the chance to reach out to their fans all over the world, something that is not lost on a nation with such an illustrious seafaring past as Portugal. After all, the beautiful game is more than merely a sport, but rather a global phenomenon that unites people and cultures from every corner of the world.