Amid the intensity of a UEFA European Championship, played between the continent's best under the swelter of Ukraine's heat and the weight of Poland's rain, feeling heavy legs would not be unnatural after reaching the last four. Yet when Portugal defender Ricardo Costa looks around at his national team colleagues, he feels confident that Paulo Bento's side will be the last men standing.
Ricardo Costa should know. The 31-year-old defender is a veteran of the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup squads, and an important voice of calm and experience, despite having yet to play in UEFA EURO 2012. His instinct tells him that Portugal's squad is at least as strong as their celebrated teams of the recent past.
"Like all great national teams, we have a strong group and there's a high level of understanding between the players," he told UEFA.com. "Even when some players are tired, we show the strength of soul that we have as well. We're all well prepared to play."
Such readiness at the end of a hard season reflects well on Bento. Ricardo Costa credits the coach with simplifying the team's approach, leading to an atmosphere big on personal and group responsibility – and geared towards high achievement. "We're just carrying on with what we did in qualifying ... with the ideas he has tried to get across to us. We're continuing that work, and the results are plain to see. Now here we are in the semi-finals."
The defeat by pre-tournament favourites Germany a fortnight ago seems like a lifetime away following three successive wins since. Yet Ricardo Costa says that loss, and Portugal's rocky start to 2012, was necessary "suffering" on the way to a position of strength. "We lost against Germany, but we played very well in the second half of that game. We were unlucky to lose. Now we're very confident, very motivated and we really want to do something unique for Portugal – there's a trophy to be won. I hope we'll be lucky and continue to work well so we can win the next match."
Such an upbeat mood makes Portugal prepared to adapt to any challenge, says the Valencia CF centre-back, recalling the stiff resistance provided by the Czech Republic in Thursday's quarter-final before Cristiano Ronaldo's 79th-minute winner: "We were always confident. The Czech Republic made it difficult, sitting deep and playing on the counterattack, but we stayed confident that we would score, even if we had to suffer more than we would have liked."
The versatile defender expresses his sadness for the one low note from the quarter-final in the Polish capital: the injury to Hélder Postiga that will keep the forward out of Wednesday's Donetsk semi-final against Spain. "It's bad news because he's done a great job," said Ricardo Costa. "He worked hard and scored, despite the critics. But we're in the good position of having good substitutes, and whoever comes in will be able to do well for Portugal."
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