Portugal's appearance in tonight's final will certainly herald the end of one era, but probably also the start of another. While members of the 'golden generation' such as Luís Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto bring the curtain down on their illustrious careers, hoping to add a senior European title to that of world junior champions, the younger players can look forward to being part of a new force in European football.
'Change in mentality'
Jorge Baptista is one of the country's best-known TV summarisers, and a long-time friend of UEFA through his work as a media officer at club and international competitions. Baptista is in no doubt that a significant corner has been turned in Portuguese football: "Regardless of the result of Sunday's match, we have achieved what I think is the most important thing, which is a change in mentality," he told uefa.com.
Balance is right
"In my opinion we are fortunate in having excellent players, but [José] Mourinho at [FC] Porto and [Luiz Felipe] Scolari with the national team have been very important in bringing the self-confidence and the right mentality to play the game. In 1989 and 1991 our youth teams won the world championships, but without pressure; now they know how to deal with the pressure. Everyone knows the Latin mentality, but finally we have achieved the right balance and the talent has done the rest."
Anyone who has been in Portugal for these championships cannot fail to have been impressed by the scale of the celebrations that have followed every Portuguese victory. "It's an important moment for the Portuguese people, because the confidence was not so good before the tournament," Baptista explained. "That's why we see so many people partying, and that's why the whole country stops when the Portuguese players are on the pitch.
'Proud to be Portuguese'
"For the first time that I remember the whole nation is together – I've never seen so many flags and people wearing the national colours. Some years ago everyone was saying this was kitsch, but now everyone is wearing the colours because they are proud to be Portuguese. It's been really important for our self-esteem because it was very low, and I know the players are all aware of that too."
Going forward, Baptista is hopeful of a knock-on effect for domestic football. "Of course they are playing at home, with the support of the people, but they earned this support," he said. "With this involvement of the people with the national team, the next season could be much better with people coming to the new stadiums to watch the matches. Also the players now know they can construct a very good career in Portugal.
"I think with the national team now we can move Portuguese football forward. Maybe we can realise that with a good structure and with everybody pushing from the same side, we can go further and further. We can't expect titles every year, but at least we can be there, we can fight for them. We have been knocked out of many tournaments because of our mentality, but now we have some excellent examples of how it is possible to change, that it’s possible to achieve important things.
"There are many countries that would like to have our talent, with their own organisation, and it's very important to finally understand that we can be among the best teams in Europe. Portuguese people like to play football, they are skilful, and if they have an open mind to guide them, like the Brazilians for example, they can achieve things. The Portuguese like to play so much that to score a goal sometimes is a problem, because they like to keep the ball! But if someone is there to tell them there is a goal, they will enjoy it even more."
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