ANDY BRASSELL is a wonderful man with a fine CV: he is European Football Correspondent for Fox Soccer, BBC Worldwide and ESPN Soccernet, as well as appearing on BBC Five Live. But more importantly for us, he’s with Portugal at their training camp throughout Euro 2012.
I sat down with him – well, e-mailed him. Here is what he thinks about their chances this summer.
So, cards on the table – can Portugal win Euro 2012?
– They can, but whether they will is another question. What makes me think they might cause a surprise is that Paulo Bento has found a way to get something approaching his Real Madrid form out of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the defence should be well marshalled by Pepe, despite the blips in the friendly with Turkey.
How has the new manager, Paulo Bento, found the task? Is he up to it?
– I think he is up to it. He inherited an unenviable situation in terms of qualifying when he took over, but dealt with it in a very positive, matter-of-fact way, and got them here against the odds. The players like him but his no-nonsense nature means he won’t stand for any rubbish, as José Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho have found out to their cost.
How does the squad cope with the presence of Ronaldo?
– Contrary to the wider perception of him as a diva who can be quite hard to handle, he’s a very upbeat presence in the Portugal camp. He’s always smiling and loves being with the squad, whilst retaining that obsessive streak that makes him so productive; he trains unbelievably hard, and really leads by example. As for the media attention, the other players seem to find it quite amusing, and don’t miss the opportunity to tease him about it.
Any players we need to look out for that most don’t know of?
– Probably Nélson Oliveira. He’s a 20-year-old striker for Benfica who has yet to score a league goal, but bagged one within minutes of his Champions League debut v Zenit St Petersburg and is absolutely bursting with talent. It’s easy to think his considerable talent is overegged a little bit as Portugal are so desperate for a world-class centre-forward to appear (see next question), but he has a lot of goodwill and support behind him. He could do well as an impact sub.
It was said that Portugal don’t play a ‘false nine’, they play a ‘fake nine’ – but just how vital is Postiga/Almeida to the system?
– Postiga will start, but even though he’s no Karim Benzema, he’s pretty handy for Portugal. His main strength is that he’s mobile – a useful trait in a potentially amorphous front three – and that his presence allows Cristiano Ronaldo to play wide left. One my favourite tournament facts is that Postiga actually has a better goalscoring ratio for Portugal than Wayne Rooney does for England.
Does the ‘failure’ of the golden generation (Figo, Rui Costa et al) heap more pressure on this less-talented band to do something memorable?
– It’s more that the Scolari era raised expectations to an unsustainable level, and the current crop are suffering from that. Scolari always moaned that it was an impossible job to keep putting out a competitive team from a country of 11m people when he was used to having the resources of a nation of almost 200m at his disposal. Those successes (Euro 04, World Cup 06) created a sense of entitlement that shouldn’t really be there.
How do the people of Portugal compare this squad to that of the golden generation?
– Not especially favourably. The timing of their emergence meant Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho and company were expected to take on where Figo, Rui Costa etc left off without missing a beat, and the failure of rising to this impossible task hasn’t reflected well on them, even if those two are both good, important players for the team now. Maybe if they went on and won the Euro they’d get their dues, but there’s just something mythical about that previous generation, and their successes for clubs abroad are something that Veloso and Moutinho are a long way from matching.
There’s a healthy mix of sources for the squad: Portugal, England, Spain, Italy and even Bruno Alves plays in Russia. Is that a good or bad thing?
– There are two way of looking at it; it’s handy to have such a wide range of experiences in the group, or it means that they all treat national team duty as a bit of a social (an accusation that Carlos Queiroz has made). I tend to think absence makes the heart grow fonder, and there’s a real sense of pride at coming together to represent Portugal. Whatever they do or don’t do at the tournament, it won’t be for want of trying.
There’s a lot of experience in the Champions League and Europa League there…
– Spot on. I think that’s actually quite overlooked. Only one of the probable starting line-up, João Pereira, hasn’t played in the Champions League, there are three CL winners in the line-up, two UEFA Cup/ EL winners, and even a relative stripling like Moutinho has played about 80 European games, including 30 CL ones. They won’t be scared of this group at all, as they’re all used to big games.
Superbock or Sagres?
– Super Bock for bottles, Sagres for draft.
On a scale of 1-to-awful, how awful is Nando’s?
– Nothing quite beats a bifana (trad Portuguese thincut pork steak sandwich), but Nando’s is quite a guilty pleasure of mine. It would be even more so if they provided decent vegetarian options to make my wife more keen on going…
Give us a mad prediction for Euro 2012…
– Olivier Giroud of France for top scorer. In great nick at the moment and even though he won’t start, has shown the ability to adjust to the pace of the game quickly when appearing as sub in friendlies. Great finisher, very good in the air, and could rinse tiring defences. And heck, if Milan Baros could do it…