‘The Drill Sergeant’ takes tiny Portugal farCapturing soccer’s biggest prize with a small country was beyond even The Drill Sergeant’s reach.
Luiz Felipe Scolari came to Germany in search of a place in the record books as the only coach to win the World Cup with different countries. Scolari guided his native Brazil, the world’s most powerful soccer nation, to its record fifth title four years ago.
Portugal doesn’t have Brazil’s pedigree nor its depth of talent. For all his motivational skills, Scolari just didn’t have the clay to mold a champion, although he turned Portugal into a challenger to the major soccer nations before it finished fourth in the World Cup.
“It was more difficult to reach a semifinal with Portugal than the final with Brazil, because there are only 10 million people in Portugal compared to 180 million in Brazil,” Scolari said.
Veteran midfielder Costinha acknowledged that Portugal is not one of the sport’s big hitters.
“We’re still one of European soccer’s poor cousins,” he said.
Despite the limitations, Scolari’s Portugal made an impact with its longest run at the World Cup in 40 years. Finishing fourth was its best showing since Eusebio’s 1966 team came in third.
With Scolari at the helm for the past three years, the Portuguese have chalked up their best series of results.
Portugal’s 1-0 loss to France in the semifinals snapped a 19-game unbeaten streak dating back to early last year and was its first competitive loss since it fell by the same margin to Greece in the final of the 2004 European Championship.
“Nobody expected us to come this far. We were a long shot,” Scolari said, about the World Cup. “We’ve shown here that we’re one of the four best teams in the world.”
The achievement was largely due to Scolari’s influence.
Before Scolari, Portugal was a talented and entertaining team, but still on the fringes of world soccer’s aristocracy. In its only other World Cup appearances, in 1986 and 2002, it didn’t get past the group phase.
Under the Brazilian, nicknamed Big Phil and The Drill Sergeant for his uncompromising approach, the Portuguese gained confidence and an overriding hunger for victory, even if it wasn’t attained in a pretty manner.
Scolari added some steel to Portugal’s renowned elegance. It had two players sent off during a nasty scrap with the Dutch in the second round, and held its nerve to overcome England on penalties.