Portugal’s 2010 FIFA World Cup™ adventure is at an end but the team’s ambassador, the legendary Eusebio, has stayed on in South Africa to see the tournament through to its conclusion. The man known in his playing days as O Pantera Negra (The Black Panther), spoke to FIFA.com to explain why, in spite of their exit, Carlos Queiroz’s men can be proud of their campaign, and his optimism for the future of the national team.
But, of course, the man who ended up top scorer at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, held in England, has enjoyed taking in all the sights and sounds of another spectacular tournament and was quick to offer his opinions on those teams that have particularly caught his eye. He had praise for Ghana, and thinks that Africa’s remaining representatives could defeat Uruguay on their way to the semi-finals. His choice of finalists, however, is more conventional, and the legendary striker sees it as a straight shoot-out between Brazil, Argentina and Germany.
FIFA.com: What was your take on the match that ended Portugal’s tournament against Spain? Eusebio: The game turned out as it did and there’s nothing we can do about it now. In Portugal we were all very sad to go out but life goes on. The team went out and it’s not worth crying over it. Portugal were good in the first half and I think if they had taken the chances they had they would not have lost. Our back four and goalkeeper were in good form and I think that they could have kept Spain at bay. But unfortunately that’s not what happened.
You spent a lot of time with the team throughout the tournament. What will you take away from Portugal’s campaign, and what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room?
The players gave everything they had in every game and that’s always the most important thing because results can be unpredictable. We know that we have an excellent team and that we’re in good shape for the next few big tournaments. I was in the camp all the way along, from when we left Lisbon, and it was a great experience to feel that togetherness.
From what you have seen at the FIFA World Cup, which team has impressed you most?
From the teams that are left, and what I’ve seen, Ghana. They have a young team, but they know how to play and could have a real say in how the tournament turns out. They’re going to play Uruguay and they’ve got a great chance of being the first African country to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup. They could spring a real surprise.
In Portugal we were all very sad to go out but life goes on. The team went out and it’s not worth crying over it.
Do you think Ghana could go even further, and maybe even get to the Final?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, at least for now. It’s sad that they are the only African team left in, and I hope they keep going because that would be a great thing for the development of the game in Africa. As I always say, they’ve got a real chance and let’s hope that they get that little bit of luck.
Given that some former champions are now out of the tournament, such as Italy and France, which teams do you now think are the favourites to lift the Trophy?
Before the tournament started, I said many times that my favourites were Brazil and Spain. But we need to bear Argentina in mind because they’re playing very well and they’ve got a great team spirit. Of course, they’re going to play Germany in the quarter-finals, and the Germans are always strong. It’s a shame that one of those two teams will end up being knocked out. Brazil could have a slightly easier route to the Final, in theory, and I think they’re strong enough to get past Netherlands, although the Dutch will give them a tough game. I think Brazil will get to the Final, and they’ll play Argentina or Germany.
There are plenty of world-class strikers on show in South Africa. Who do you think is the favourite to win the adidas Golden Shoe?
[Gonzalo] Higuain and David Villa are big favourites but in the World Cup it’s only usually after the semi-finals that you start to get a clear picture of who the top scorer will be. Of course, everything could be sorted out by the end of the quarter-finals. Who knows whether Villa, for example, will score a hat-trick against Paraguay? But I think we will have to wait until the Final itself to see who the top scorer is going to be.
We have already had 123 goals, among them some outstanding strikes. Which is your goal of the tournament so far?
It’s true that we’ve seen some good goals so far this World Cup, but the one I really liked was [Carlos] Tevez for Argentina against Mexico. Superb movement, a brilliant shot and a great goal. It’s always hard to choose the best goal but that’s the one I enjoyed most, possibly because it was from outside the box. When I was playing, I used to score a fair few goals from distance and that’s why I’ve always appreciated long-range shooting.