Philippe Saraiva: Euro 2000, Portugal v. England

The Foundation – To Portugal’s Ascent

I was 8 years old when Portugal and England played against each other in Eindhoven in the first game of Euro 2000 for Portugal. Today, Portugal is seen as one of the favourites to win any international competition, but back then we had just missed the World Cup 1998 and were sent home by Karel Poborsky of the Czech Republic in Euro ’96. Far from the regular contender we became after 2000.

The game started and you could feel the tension and the respect we had for a nation such as England. After all, they were the one that eliminated us in our best performance ever in a World Cup in 1966, and Eusebio’s tears were still present in all Portuguese football fans memories when the game started. This was also in our players heads too.

After 3 minutes, Paul Scholes scored with a header, and within 20 minutes we were down 2-0 after Steve McManaman’s goal. Beckham’s assisted both and the logic was being respected – after all, we were a small country playing against the fathers of football.

But something was different this time. And if the supporters were quite stunned, the players were still focused in the game. If I’m not mistaken we scored a goal right after England’s second, but Nuno Gomes was off-side. But a few minutes later… it happened. Luis Figo took the ball inside the center circle, and could advance without any problem, as if we were inoffensive for English players. He ran and shot from 25/27m and scored one of the most exhilarating of Portugal’s history. David Seaman did not even try to save that ball that went right into the top corner.

From this moment, everything changed. We started dominating the game. Before half time, we scored a second one from João Pinto. I think that goal is preceded by 30/40 passes, a beautiful collective goal. Nuno Gomes gave us the win around the 60th minute.

This game changed a lot in Portuguese football. From a country that had good players to a country that can beat any major nation. We went to the semi finals this year – what a tragic one – but without Figo’s goal and this game, there would never have been Eder’s one in 2016.

Memory added on June 21, 2021

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