Football: Euro 2004: Ronaldo Lauds Portugal Spirit Ahead of Battle with Spain

Article excerpt

PORTUGAL FANS heaved a collective sigh of relief following the hosts' victory over Russia on Wednesday, but they know there is far more nerve-jangling agony to come.

Goals from Maniche Ribeiro and Rui Costa at the Estadio da Luz were enough to re-ignite the challenge for Euro 2004 glory while their opponents slipped into a more advance stage of self- destruction.

However, all those three precious points mean is that Sunday's final Group A meeting with arch-rivals Spain is one in which the stakes could hardly be higher.

Local pride would be enough of a prize for both sides but this time there is the added dimension of the knowledge that anything less than victory for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side will mean the ignominy of elimination from the tournament before the serious business has begun.

Portugal, as a nation, has invested a huge amount of time and money in staging Euro 2004. They have invested just as much, if not more, hope in the belief that after years of under-achievement this really could be their year.

In the space of 90 minutes at the Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon on Sunday evening, that cauldron of hope and emotion will come to the boil.

Win and the the path to the big prize opens up before them with the added bonus of a rare chance to crow over their nearest neighbours. Draw and it will be a case of what might have been with Greece the villains of the piece. Lose and they will be remembered as the team which consigned the famed golden generation to history and failed to shake off the tag of perennial nearly-men.

Scolari and his players have been under the spotlight for months but no more so than during the days leading up to the Russia game with the coach's selection and tactics, the rumbling row over Brazilian-born Deco's inclusion and the form of some of the big- name players in the squad, all topics for debate.

However, teenager Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who made the second goal for Rui Costa on Wednesday night, insists that there is a unity within the camp.

"We're very united and have a great spirit and happiness between us," he said. …