Always the epitome of calm and discretion, Raul Meireles made his way in to speak to the media hiding under a baseball cap. One of the squad's perpetual unsung heroes, the 29-year-old represents Portugal's UEFA EURO 2012 challenge in microcosm, creeping up stealthily towards an end goal – the Henri Delaunay Cup.
The wily Meireles is attempting to transfer tips from the successes of his club season with Chelsea FC to international level. "Nobody regarded us as favourites before the tournament," he said, "just as nobody regarded Chelsea as favourites in the Champions League. It will be very difficult, but it's our dream, just as it's the dream of all Portuguese people."
Portugal may be the subject of a flurry of media plaudits at home but – characteristically – Meireles does not see the confidence flowing through the Selecção das Quinas as a dramatic development. The midfielder sees it as the culmination of hard work that initially yielded frustrating results in friendlies leading up to the departure for Poland.
"We've started to play very well," he said, "but this started with the preparation games back home in Portugal. The confidence has always been the same." Meireles is equally unperturbed about his own lack of goalscoring opportunities, despite his renowned shooting power. "It's not important who's shooting the most or the least," he shrugged. "It's a collective effort. Above all, we've shown that we're a team with good organisation, with extremely strong players."
The most mentioned of those players is, of course, captain Cristiano Ronaldo, but tallying with his view of the team as a whole, Meireles believes the Real Madrid CF forward's fine performance against the Netherlands is no more than a natural progression of his work. "We're all aware of the great player we have in our national team, in my opinion no less than the best player in the world," he said. "Everybody wants him to help, that was just what happened against the Netherlands and fortunately he scored."
Another individual star who Meireles is very familiar with is the man that Portugal will be trying to beat on Thursday night in Warsaw, Czech Republic goalkeeper and captain Petr Čech. "I know Petr very well," said Meireles, "but I've not spoken to him." The midfielder says his Stamford Bridge team-mate will be unruffled by his error that led to Greece's goal in the second group stage game. "He's very strong mentally," Meireles underlined. "He's one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and he has proved that."
Paulo Bento's most experienced midfielder knows that the group's realism can be its biggest strength but they must not take the Czechs lightly. "The feeling I have is that they'll come with the desire to win," said Meireles, who has 59 caps to his name. "After losing the first game heavily, they responded very well to finish top of their group."
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