Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Portugal Soar to the Dizzy Heights

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Portugal Soar to the Dizzy Heights

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

Portugal gave the world the hot-air balloon. Now football is finally taking off in a country fast approaching cloud nine.

A first major final beckons for Luis Figo but an even greater prize awaits his proud Brazilian coach.

No manager has ever lifted both World Cup and European Championship titles but Luiz Felipe Scolari is one victory away from becoming the first.

As a keen advocate of hot air, the South American will relish the chance to build a nation's reputation on more than mere balloons.

A 2-1 win far more comfortable than the narrow scoreline suggests, this most popular triumph owed everything to the perfect contrast between Figo's flair and Scolari's tactical skill.

The Real Madrid midfielder may have come no closer than a post in his quest for a much-needed goal but the Galactico shone nevertheless. Scolari's studied gameplan was equally impressive.

Goals either side of the break from Cristiano Ronaldo and Maniche reflected Portugal's overwhelming dominance and Jorge Andrade's own-goal offered no more than the slightest hope to a team out-fought and out-thought throughout.

Dick Advocaat was duly chastened. For the passionate home support, it was impossible to determine whether Scolari's side had finally clicked into gear when it mattered most or if Holland were a weaker team than their reputation.

Advocaat had certainly drawn fierce criticism at home for persisting with Ruud van Nistelrooy as a lone striker throughout the tournament and the 1988 champions had hardly been convincing in edging their way towards a semi-final.

However, it was difficult to imagine the Dutch failing to raise their game with the stakes so high. As a result their abject display was all the more shocking.

That so few serious questions were asked of the vibrant home team was as much a result of a midfield masterclass from Deco, Luis Figo and Ronaldo as it was a consequence of Holland's appalling lack of ambition. In allowing their opponents the dual luxury of time on the ball and space in which to pass, the Dutch invited Scolari's most skilful players to pour forward. …

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