Despair has turned to joy in the space of five days for Portugal fans after two away wins put their UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying campaign back on track.
There was concern following last month's home draws with Poland and Serbia, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's men responded with victories in Azerbaijan (2-0) on Saturday and in Kazakhstan (2-1) last night to move within a point of Group A leaders Poland. Their latest success came courtesy of late goals by Ariza Makukula and Cristiano Ronaldo, ensuring that Portugal's fate stayed in their own hands with a three-point buffer established over Serbia and Finland. Four points from their final two games, at home to both Armenia and Finland, will send them to Austria/Switzerland.
Flávio Teixeira, who assumed the head coach's role for the second time because of Scolari's three-match touchline ban, was quick to point out just how hard it had been to take maximum plunder from Almaty. "Our goal was to win our last four games and we are on track to do so," the Brazilian said. "It was a tough contest because Kazakhstan are not an easy team to deal with, but we did what was needed to get a positive result."
Makukula, who had only been brought into the squad on Monday as a replacement for Nuno Gomes, struck the opening goal on 84 minutes after coming on for his first cap. Although thrilled with his dream debut, the 26-year-old CS Marítimo forward refused to be branded a hero. "We are all heroes, not just me," he said. "Thankfully I was able to score and help the team win. My goal came from Ricardo Quaresma's magic. His cross was perfect and I just had to head the ball into the net. I couldn't wish for a better debut. I will always return to the national squad with pride and pleasure – although that depends on the coach."
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