Portugal Football - Astounding

A spectacle as seen by an American


As an American living in Fatima, Portugal, one thing I miss is American Football.  I also miss prime rib but that is another story.  It is hard to understand the love of European Football, which we call Soccer, because it is hard to follow on TV.  Another thing that is hard to understand is that Soccer does not use the second must important part of the body, the hands.  The real art of the game is in the feet and they are amazingly good with the ball, but on TV it is hard to see the great artwork done with the feet because the cameras must take in the entire game at once.  Close up shots of the feet almost never happen.  Because the game never stops (the clock moves even when the ball goes off the field) you do not see reruns until the end of the game.  I find it hard to understand why this game is the most popular spectator sport in the entire world. 


I think it is not so much the game as the pride that goes with it.  It is a sport played all over Europe, South America, Russia, and the middle east.  Most countries have many teams who play each other for the Country championship.  But the big events of Europe is every two years when each county puts together one team out of all their teams and plays for the big prize, the European Championship.  This is country against country, something that America does not do.  Then there is the World Cup played every four years.  That being my prejudice against this game, I must say that I got caught up in the hype of it and experienced the most amazing site I have ever seen, maybe in my life, but I must set the background for you to understand.


Hosting The European Championships


Every four years the counties of Europe put together their best players for the one time to represent their country and a host country is picked to have the games - something like the way the Olympics are done.  A country must prove that you can handle millions of tourists in many stadiums that can handle large crowds.  There are many games played and this takes many different stadiums.  You must also prove that you can handle the logistics, the hotels, the transportation, food and crime. 


Portugal is only 10,000,000 people, one of the smallest countries in Europe.  Ten million people is about the size of greater Los Angeles.  In order for Portugal to win the award for hosting the games, it had to promise five new large stadiums, new hotels, new roads, more taxis and buses, more air traffic, etc.  And they had to do this in only three years.  I did not think they could do it but they did.  One of the smallest countries in Europe (in terms of population) won the hosting of the games. 


In Porto they built a new stadium, and another one in Lieria, and another in Coimbra, and Lisbon, and the Algarve, and new hotels everywhere, and new roads, and they finished on time.  Like the Olympics the cost was in the billions but Portugal hopes to make hundreds of millions on the millions of tourists for the six weeks of the games.  There is great pride in hosting the games for Portugal but as the host country the people expect the Portugal team to make a good showing in the games.


The Portuguese Players


Throughout Europe Portuguese players are know as the best but because of the small population and therefore small funds, Portuguese players are not paid a great deal of money compared to England, Germany, Italy, France and Spain.  Most of the time the best Portuguese players are bought off by the other counties.  To the best of my knowledge there are three great Portuguese players playing for England, 5 in Italy, 2 in Spain, 1 in Germany, etc.  There are even great Portuguese coaches in other countries.


Just prior to the European Championships, England bought off on of the best of Portugal's new players, and only 18 years old.  Nonetheless, Portugal keeps producing new and great players and the people expect great things from the teams.   


The Portuguese Hype


To pump up their team and the people, millions of dollars of Portuguese flags were made and sold, in the form of flags for the cars, large ones for the houses, and in shirts, and skirts and banners and shorts and hats and scarves and even on the shoes.  People painted their flag on their face and their fingernails and even other places. 


Then they had rallies and musicals and beach bon fires and TV specials to build up the fans to a fury of excitement for their team.  After all, this was Portugal's finest hour and their team had to make at least a good showing.  They could be proud of the new stadiums, and hotels and roads, but in the end their team had to do well for them to have pride in the entire thing. At least get through the first round.


The Portuguese Chances


The favorites this year are France, England and Spain, in that order, with Croatia putting up a pretty good team also.  My observations, as a former player of seven different sports, is that the Portuguese have the best athletes in speed and footwork and control the ball a great deal.  In the games I have watched the Portuguese have possession of the ball most of the time by taking it away from their opponents with what seems to be real ease. 


But their team is stretched out on the field and therefore they have a hard time scoring, which is never done with one player but usually with the help of four players, one, setting up the first kick, two creating an opening, and a forth recherchéing it in the goal.   Seldom does Portugal have these four people at the goal at the same time. 


However, because of speed and footwork, they have a good team.  Only one of their players is well know but, for Soccer, he is an old man - 31 years.  All the hype did not help Portugal, as they lost their opener to little known Greece, 2 to 0.  Considering that in the first round you are knocked out of the entire games if you loose two games or even loose one and tie one, Portugal seemed doomed to be greatly embarrassed as a host country. 


The Almost Impossible


Now Portugal must go against Spain, who they have not beaten in 23 years.  Spain is a country of great wealth, many people, and Football teams owned my multi-millionaires who pay millions for players.  Spain had won their opener so they could afford a tie and still be in good shape, but Portugal had to win or be eliminated.  They did.  And the country went wild all through the night until the early hours of the morning.  Then reality set in as their next game would have to be England. 


England came to Portugal expecting to win the whole thing and tens of thousands of fans came with them, maybe even hundreds of thousands of fans.  If you watch the European news you know that English fans are very violent. A black list of English supporters was taken from those arrested before and they were stopped at the border and sent home.  But in spite of this, England lost the first game in two overtime goals, and the English fans went crazy causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and 120 of them being arrested.  Like Portugal they won the next game but faced the same problem as Portugal.  One more loss or tie and they were out for good.  English fans stood outside the gates of the stadium and paid up to 300 Euros for seats and ended up with 65% of the seats in the stadium for the win or die game.  Having the crowd on their side and the fact that England plays an 8 man defense against a Portuguese team that has a hard time scoring anyway, left Portugal with little or no change of winning.  But loosing means to sit out the rest of the games for 4 more weeks watching others play on in their country.  The fans did not give up hope.


 A Game Never to Forget


Although outnumbered in the stands, the Portuguese had their garb and faith.  They wore Portuguese flag shirts and skirts and banners and flags.  And they went wild for their team.  But so did the English fans who stripped off their shirts and jumped up and down for their team. 


As expected Portugal dominated possession of the ball but could not score, with their best player making wild shots at the goal that missed badly.  In only  a few minutes the English made what I considered a great shot at the goal and scored first.   It was a long time later before Portugal tied the game and then go ahead 2-1, but England came back again to tie the gave.  Then with little time left in regular time, Portugal took out there best player and put in a young man who was the one to tie the game. In the first overtime the game remained tied.  Then in the second overtime the game remained tied again.  Then 5 free kicks were given to each team and again it remained tied.  Then they went to sudden death with each team having one kick each until in the end England missed and Portugal put it through the net.  The impossible had been done, Portugal would go to the second round and England would go home to England.


The crowds went crazy and horns all over Portugal began to be honked and people all over the country came out of their homes and screamed and waved flags and drove there cars around their towns shouting and singing and waving flags and honking horns.  In Fatima a hundred cars stopped in the rotunda and had a party right in the middle of the streat which went on till the sun came up.  In Lisbon, where the game was held, the parks and squares were filled with people, bands, singers, beer, and dancing till five in the morning. 


I watched the game in a restaurant in Fatima, but never expected Portugal to win and never expected the hype after they won.  In retrospect, I should have expected it but did not.


It is not over, but Portugal has already won.  Portugal has beaten Spain and England in their own country.  They have made the second round and sent England home.  They may not win the entire thing, but the little country of Portugal has beaten the giants and can hold their heads high. 


I will never forget the hype and the pride and the joy of these people.   

                                                                                        Riccardo (or in Portuguese - Ricardo)  Salbato


 Scolah, the Portuguese Coach is a Catholic and a great devotee of Our Lady under the title of The Virgin of Caravaggio.  Some of the Players carried statues of Our Lady of Fatima at the game.  Sports can be a way to bring different cultures together in peace, and I think that for the most part Portugal is a good example of this.