Portugal captain Fernando Couto has dismissed claims that fatigue has played a part in the bigger nations' failure to reach the latter stages of UEFA EURO 2004™.
The central defender said his own side, the Netherlands, Greece and the Czech Republic are "Europe's strongest teams" because of their overall emphasis on team play. Fernando Couto said: "The four best teams in the competition have reached the semi-finals. They have put their strength in the collective game and this is the main reason they have got this far."
When asked if tiredness was behind the early elimination of sides like Spain and Italy, the former FC Barcelona and current S.S. Lazio player did not agree. He cited the achievements of the FC Porto contingent, who played a full domestic season and also featured in a successful UEFA Champions League campaign. "The Porto players also played a lot of games, and are now helping the Portuguese national team. Once again, it is clear that Europe's strongest teams are in the semi-finals."
The 34-year-old, who is Portugal's most-capped player with 109, is probably appearing in his last finals tournament but is again likely to be on the bench due to the outstanding form of Jorge Andrade and Ricardo Carvalho. Regarding Portugal's opponents, he said: "[The Netherlands] have a great team with good players.
"They have a particular strategy that allows them to have possession of the ball, just like us, so I think it will be a very interesting match," he added. "I think we are better, but we still have to prove it on the pitch in what is one more final for us, just as we did in our other games." Looking back at Portugal's involvement at the same stage of UEFA EURO 2000™, Fernando Couto said this team "are prepared to fight as we were four years ago". However, he added: "I expect that this time we will go through."
Enjoying the finals
When questioned about whether this would be his last chance to win something with his country, Fernando Couto replied he was "not thinking about that". He said: "I'm just enjoying the experience as much as I can and only thinking about the next game and not about my future in the national team once the EURO has ended."
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