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Portugal commence their FIFA World Cup preparations with a friendly against China in Coimbra on Wednesday, and coach Carlos Queiroz will be expecting to see further evidence that his team have been galvanised by their troubled route through qualifying.
China ought to give Queiroz and his charges a good feel for what they can expect from Korea DPR in Group G this summer – where Brazil and the Ivory Coast also await – but the Asian side could easily have been aiding another team's warm-up programme. Portugal took just six points from their first five qualifiers and needed a strong finish just to take second spot in their pool. That earned a play-off with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which they won thanks to a pair of 1-0 wins.
Those victories extended their run of competitive triumphs to five and Queiroz feels the spirit within the squad has been helped by their battles with adversity. "When you suffer and fight like we fought, with everybody – the players, technical staff and directors who supported us – believing in you, and when you then get to the finals, the squad can't help but be much more united," he told UEFA.com. "The unity within the team is much stronger. We trust each other much more. We were dependent on other teams during qualification, but now we know what we have to do during the World Cup."
The former Real Madrid CF coach, who turned 57 yesterday, nonetheless insisted his players have quality on their side, as well as unity. "At the start [of the qualifiers], the team couldn't get the results their performances deserved," he said. "But the truth is that sometimes when you win, people think that everything is great and it isn't – and sometimes when you lose it's just one step back and a reason to do better next time."
The hope now is that the players see out the rest of the season in good shape, despite the demands of their domestic campaigns and European club competition. "We want fresh legs and fresh minds, because it has been a very tiring season," said Queiroz. "We have players at Real Madrid, Manchester United, Internazionale, Benfica, Chelsea etc. – great European clubs who have a very tiring season."
Backing up his coach's comments, Club Atlético de Madrid winger Simão is convinced he and his team-mates will touch down in South Africa ready to impress. "We had great difficulties qualifying for the World Cup but after two years the team grew stronger; we became more united and reached our objective," he said. "Without doubt, we'll be even more prepared and stronger for the World Cup."
Looking back at Portugal's shaky start down the road to the final tournament, he added: "[Queiroz] came to the national team during a period of player turnover. [Luís] Figo had retired, along with some other important names. He tried to find young players who would make a good impression and play good football. I think that after two years he has a group of 25 or 26 players he knows he can count on."
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