For Portugal coach Helio Sousa, competing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup is nothing new. After all, he won the tournament as a player in 1989 and was assistant coach of the team that finished runners-up in 2011. His ambition today remains unchanged: to lead Portugal to glory at New Zealand 2015.
Perhaps because the team will not leave for the southern hemisphere for a number of months, Sousa told FIFA.com that "enthusiasm was not the right word" to describe the current mood in the Portugal camp. But he is sure of one thing: competing at the U-20 World Cup is not something you forget in a hurry.
"It's a unique competition and a great experience, which I was lucky enough to be involved in in two different roles.," he said. "Now I’ve got the chance to be in charge of Portugal’s third consecutive appearance in the finals. It’s a very important tournament, and one that can really help to build reputations.
"We want to give Portuguese football something to be proud of, and impress people with our character and style of play," said the man who steered Portugal to the runners-up spot at the UEFA European U-19 Championship in 2014 to secure a berth at next year's showpiece event.
Yet the world has changed a great deal in the 25 years since Sousa played under Carlos Queiroz in the team that won the U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 1989. It has become smaller, for one, and so the prospect of playing in a competition so far from home is not as intimidating as it once was - not least because Portugal will have plenty of support in New Zealand.
"More than two decades have passed since Riyadh," said Sousa. "Back then we could only communicate with our friends and family back home by fixed-line telephone or letters. Now information is much easier to come by.
"But it’s still not easy to prepare for a World Cup so far away. The time difference could initially have been a big problem, but the Portuguese FA know how to make the process as smooth as possible. We’ll spend some time in Australia before the competition, so that when we go to New Zealand, it’ll be like traveling from Portugal to Spain. There is a large Portuguese community in that part of the world too, particularly in Australia, and their support will be important to us."
One goal, one dream
The most important question before any competition is always the same: what is your team’s goal? Perhaps because he does not yet know his side’s opponents in the group stage, Sousa is reluctant to be drawn on the subject.
"We haven’t defined our overall goal yet," he said. "But our philosophy is to go into each game trying to win, and that’s what we’ll do at the World Cup. In a major competition, you always have a dream, even if it’s just a personal goal, to try and go as far as you can. And that means winning the competition.
"Of course it’s just a dream, but all the teams going to New Zealand will be thinking the same thing. We had this dream at the European Championship, but in the end what we achieved at that tournament doesn’t mean anything. We still have to give everything we’ve got if we’re going to win our next game."
The dream of becoming world champions came true for the golden generation of Portuguese football, with two consecutive U-20 World Cup titles in 1989 and 1991. Now, it's up to Helio Sousa to pass on these memories, and the responsibility that comes with them, to the young players who may represent the future of Portuguese football.
"A coach always tries to pass on his experience to young players who are trying to achieve the dream of becoming professionals in a tough sport like football," he explained. "For every player from those teams that made it, there were others that struggled at the professional level, and that’s an important lesson for the young lads. The titles of 1989 and 1991 were very important for Portuguese football, for the way the game is organised here, and most of all, how teams treat young players. It was a revolution."
Seeking a connection between 1989 and 2015, Helio Sousa recalled the "friendships that would last forever" among the squad members in Saudi Arabia, which he hopes will be repeated in New Zealand. Yet he admitted the game itself has changed.
"Players today have to be more athletic than we were in the past," he said. "With the best teams, tactical developments have reduced the space that’s available, and players have to be able to think and run faster. That’s become the most important factor in the development of a player. And although the rules haven’t changed much, there are still some major differences. In my day, you could still pass the ball back to the goalkeeper.
"Football has reached a standard that was unthinkable 25 years ago. But it’s a positive thing. It’s one of the sport’s great strengths," concluded Helio Sousa, once again comparing 1989 and 2015 and the past and the present of the Portuguese U-20 team, which next year will try and forge another golden generation.