Madrid: Luiz Felipe Scolari will be looking to instil in Portugal the same winning mentality of the Brazil side he steered to World Cup victory six months ago when he prepares them to host Euro 2004. Scolari, who begins work in mid-January, is confident his methods would pay off for the under-achieving Portuguese as they had for a Brazil team that had sunk to an all-time low last year.
“I have plenty of confidence in the work that we are going to put in place and I think there is room for improvement in some areas that are already good in Portugal,” Scolari said.
“And I am sure that in 2004 we are going to be in the final of the European championship,” he said when in charge of the Fifa world team that played Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last week as part of the Spanish club’s centenary celebrations.
The 54-year-old Brazilian, known as ‘Big Phil’ to his compatriots, has a wealth of Portuguese talent and experience at his disposal with the likes of captain Fernando Couto of Lazio, Real Madrid’s Luis Figo and AC Milan’s Rui Costa.
But Scolari insists his formula will work only if these influential players, members of Portugal’s World Youth Cup winning side 11 years ago, contribute to the team.
“All those players of the 1991 generation who are still active and playing for the national side, should get together with the younger generation to build a proper team. A team with no stars or main protagonists so we can really establish a strong side and a good atmosphere that will help us to achieve our main objective.”
Brazil won their fifth World Cup under Scolari not only because of the quality of their players but also because the manager made big names such as Ronaldo and Rivaldo work for the team, closing down the opposition.
Against pleas from fans all over Brazil, including president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, he refused to call up Romario because the 1994 World Cup hero would not fit into the spirit of the so-called ‘Scolari family’ he hopes to repeat with Portugal.
“The national team should be a continuity of the work done at club level. In the end, players will be selected because they are doing well for their clubs as we are going to have at the most one friendly a month,” he said.
“So, we are going to make our selection after considering what has been achieved at club level. The final intention will be to create a great club within the national side.”
Scolari has been a winner with most of the teams he has coached — steering Palmeiras and Gremio to the Brazilian championship and Libertadores Cup titles. He is following the Euro 2002 qualifying series very closely, and has a word of warning for traditional powers like Italy, who are struggling behind Wales in their group.
“A lot can still happen. Big teams are in trouble while other teams, in which nobody believed, are doing well. So we could have three or four quite interesting surprises,” he said.
Scolari refused to name any title favourites, saying that all teams who qualified would have a chance. But after having to overcome Turkey twice to win the World Cup, Scolari sees the nation who have won all three of their qualifiers so far and are ahead of England in their group as one of the strongest contenders.
“Turkey are in front — they’ve been keeping their consistency from before the World Cup. All they are doing is to reinforce what we have been saying about them. They are a very well managed team and have many good players.”
As the host nation, Portugal do not need to qualify for Euro 2004 and Scolari recognises one of his main problems will be a lack of competitive matches.
“In this aspect, (not having to qualify) is bad, without being in a competitive environment, without a difficult situation to try to overcome, without knowing different reactions from various moments in a match.”
To compensate for that, Portugal are organising friendlies against strong opponents. “The (Portuguese) federation has already arranged a friendly on February 12 against Italy. The second will be against Brazil.
“They are all very competitive and extremely difficult matches. With those matches, we hope to able to present some competitive spirit, even being just a friendly,” he said.
On March 29, Scolari will face his own country in Oporto. But he expects his professional head to overcome his heart on this occasion. “I cannot see Brazil as my own team any more. Today, I work in Portugal and obviously I have patriotic feelings after living through such a marvellous situation (in the World Cup finals).
“It’s something I will never forget, nothing will change that. But now I am working for Portugal and I will have to put my best team together and do my best to try to beat Brazil.”
Portuguese players are famous for their skills but they are also notorious under-achievers. After losing 1-2 to France in the semi-finals of Euro 2000, they failed to get past the first round in the 2002 World Cup with co-hosts South Korea and the United States qualifying ahead of them.
With Scolari, they can expect at least a good injection of confidence. “Competitiveness and spirit can be added to someone’s game — what we cannot do is to teach people who don’t know how to play football, in six months, one year or even 30 years.
“Whoever doesn’t know, will never learn but for the ones who know, we can add something extra and that’s what we want to do.”
Scolari might be left without competitive matches to improve the quality of his team. But he is sure that if the players respond to the expectations put on their shoulders, they will have their own fans as an extra weapon in their quest to win a major tournament for the first time on home soil.