Portugal’s Simao has gone through plenty of highs and lows in his lengthy international career. The durable winger should have made his first FIFA World Cup™ appearance at Korea/Japan 2002, only to miss what turned out to be a disastrous tournament for the Portuguese when he picked up a serious injury in their final warm-up match against Finland.
Two years later came the disappointment of seeing Greece pip him and his team-mates to the European crown on home soil, although some form of recompense would come at Germany 2006. Playing in all seven of his side’s games, Simao was one of Portugal’s outstanding performers in their run to the semi-finals.
About to serve his country on the big stage once more, the Atletico Madrid man spoke to FIFA.com about his status as the most-capped player in Carlos Quieroz’s squad and the keys to Portuguese success in the weeks ahead.
“Having more caps than anyone else brings responsibility with it,” he begins. “But that’s not a burden as far as I’m concerned. It’s a pleasure. It’s something that comes with life and being in the national side. When I came into the team as a youngster the older players welcomed me with open arms. Over the years I’ve learned about the very special spirit of the Selecção, and now it’s me who’s in the position of telling the younger players about the values, culture, sense of responsibility and honour that comes with pulling on the national jersey.”
There is no question Simao knows what he is talking about. In all probability he will go into South Africa 2010 as Portugal’s fifth most-capped player of all time. Having pulled level with goalkeeper Vitor Baia’s tally of 80 caps in Tuesday evening’s 3-1 defeat of Cameroon, he should join Joao Vieira Pinto on 81 when Carlos Queiroz’s men finalise their preparations against Mozambique. Ahead of him stand only the legendary quartet of Pauleta (88 caps), Rui Costa (94) Fernando Couto (110) and Luis Figo (127).
We’re not lacking in ambition and we want to go as far as we possibly can.
Though the personal landmarks are welcome, Simao is a team player first and foremost. Fresh from helping his club collect the UEFA Europa League title, he believes Portugal’s run to the semis in Germany four years ago will provide a valuable reference point for the class of 2010. “The experience you get from occasions like that and from other international competitions is very important but it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win games,” he warns.
“Every game and every match situation is different and you have to approach them in the same way, by being fully focused and committed. Obviously the fact that we’ve been through a lot helps us grow as players and as a team. We have that inner strength and we have to make the absolute most of our capabilities, which include the maturity and experience that some of us have, and the desire and ambition that’s in all of us travelling to the World Cup.”
After coming so close to glory at UEFA EURO 2004 and at Germany 2006, Simao is hoping for a different outcome this time as Portugal continue their quest for a first major international trophy.
“If we give our all, if we keep on working with the same tenacity, drive, joy and commitment as we have up to now, then we’ll be able to hold our heads up high,” he says. “Obviously we’ll be looking for some good results to go with that, but it’s difficult to set a target and say, ‘We’ll be happy with that’. That depends on a lot of things.”
Drawn into a fiercely competitive Group G featuring Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire and Korea DPR, Portugal will have to do things the hard way if they are to make an impact in South Africa. Undaunted by the task, the seasoned wide man believes he and his colleagues have the strength to succeed.
“We’re not lacking in ambition and we want to go as far as we possibly can,” he vows. “We also know that we have to take things step by step, and the first of them is the game against Côte d’Ivoire. We have to concentrate on that step first and then the next one. Hopefully at the end of it all we’ll have gone a long way.”