At 26, Ricardinho should have plenty of other chances to win big tournaments but his dream of helping Portugal to UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 glory was very real until snatched away by Italy last night.
Having topped Group D with wins against Azerbaijan – a 4-1 victory in which Ricardinho made two and scored a beautiful chipped goal – and Serbia, 2010 runners-up Portugal were able to remain in Zagreb for Tuesday's quarter-final. However, their opponents switching from Split were a nation Portugal had not beaten in 13 encounters and that sequence is now 14 after a 3-1 loss. Ricardinho had cancelled out Arnaldo Pereira's own goal early in the second half, but his contribution was ultimately to no avail.
"When I first came into the national team [in 2003], Italy were one step higher than us but now I think we are at the same level," Ricardinho told UEFA.com. "We could see just that in the recent games we played against them. Matches like the one tonight are often decided on details and on some luck, but those factors seem to be working against us in recent times. Nevertheless, that can change. Too bad it wasn't today."
Still, there is reason for optimism, not least Portugal's display in this championship – arguably superior in quality to their 2010 run to the final. Ricardinho was injured for that tournament and his delicate touch and tireless effort justified those who believe him to be Europe's, if not the world's, foremost futsal talent.
It was not only the No10. The likes of Cardinal and Pedro Cary have come into their prime alongside the experienced Joel Queirós and captain Arnaldo, with coach Jorge Braz building on what he inherited when Orlando Duarte ended his decade-long reign a little under two years ago.
On Saturday, Portugal will discover their FIFA Futsal World Cup play-off opponents and the finals in Thailand this autumn give Ricardinho and his team-mates an immediate target. "Now we need to keep working hard and we can have a clear conscience regarding what we did in this tournament," he said. "Obviously we are very sad but I'm sure our time will come and we will win big things in the future.
"We could have reached the break [against Italy] two or three goals up but it is not only about luck. Like our coach likes to say to us, when you really believe in yourself and in the team, the ball goes in after hitting the post instead of coming out. People should continue to believe in the work of our coach because it has been excellent."
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