By Luke Gosset
Portugal have responded to their UEFA EURO 2004™ final defeat by Greece last summer in impressive style: the team are top of their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying group, while no side in Europe has scored more than their 20 goals in five games.
For midfield player Deco, today's friendly against the Republic of Ireland is the perfect stage to continue the run of form. "It's an important game against the Irish," the FC Barcelona playmaker told uefa.com. "After what happened at EURO 2004™ we have a responsibility to take every game seriously in order to justify our reputation. We're going to try to do the best we can to win, no question."
'Upwards and onwards'
Deco has seen his influence in the side grow since last summer, as senior players Luís Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto have all retired from international football. "Those players will always be missed in the national team, as they would be from any other side," he said. "They played for Portugal for a long time but we must move upwards and onwards. It's the only way."
That is exactly what Portugal are doing, judging by their last two performances in the qualifiers. Victories over Luxembourg (5-0) and Russia (7-1) have taken the pressure off coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has called up two uncapped players in teenaged midfield player Manuel Fernandes and FC Porto defender Ricardo Costa.
Deco, who won the UEFA Champions League with Porto last season, is pleased to see his former team-mate in the squad. He said: "Ricardo is a fine player but I'm not surprised there aren't more Porto players in the squad. Maniche is injured and Nuno Valente is only returning to full fitness now."
Portugal have drawn their last two games against the Irish and with important away games at Slovakia and Estonia ahead it is an ideal workout. "This is a preparation game where we can get together and prepare for the next fixtures which will be more complicated," said Deco, who is thrilled to meet up with his compatriots again. "
I have definitely missed the national team. The atmosphere is fantastic and it's always good to get back together."
While Manchester United FC winger Cristiano Ronaldo has filled the gap on the flank left by Figo, Deco has become the central player in midfield around whom Portugal construct their best moves. His form this season for Primera División leaders Barcelona has helped him in this role. "What I did for the national team at Portugal 2004 meant people stopped seeing me solely as a Porto player," he explained. "The quality of my game was recognised on a bigger stage."
Scolari is set to field Sporting Clube de Portugal midfield player Hugo Viana alongside Deco in midfield. "It's important for the young players to take part and integrate into the group," the Brazilian coach explained. "We want to combine them with the more experienced players so we can become a more competitive team. These players will improve with time."
Hungry for success
Deco, meanwhile, still believes his side have a point to prove. He concluded: "Our World Cup hopes are not dependent on this game and there is no pressure to win, but we have an image now and we have the obligation to do well."
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