A second UEFA Women's EURO appearance this summer will help build on recent progress to increase participation levels and strengthen the game at club level.
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Turning the tide
Portugal are relative latecomers to the top level of women's football but are eager to make up for lost time. Their unlikely run to the 2012 UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship semi-finals proved a harbinger as several members of that squad then helped the senior team qualify for UEFA Women's EURO 2017, where they beat Scotland in between narrow losses to Spain and England. Benfica's feat of reaching the inaugural UEFA Women's Champions League group stage in 2021/22 was another positive signpost, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) having encouraged clubs including the Eagles, Sporting CP and Braga to set up female sections.
Best UEFA competition performance
Seniors: UEFA Women's EURO group stage (2017)
Youth: UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship semi-finals (2012), UEFA Women's U17 Championship semi-finals (2019)
Women's football pioneer
Carla Couto retired from the national team in 2012 and thus missed out on Portugal's recent emergence, but she pointed the way with her talent and ambition over a long career which also took her to China and Italy. In 2015, she was named the FPF's female player of the previous 100 years.
"I had a career full of achievements. I was a national champion 11 times, I won six Portuguese Cups … I had many good moments, but the most striking was undoubtedly my first international. It stayed with me for the rest of my life. At 19, wearing the national team jersey was something great."
Portugal had already made waves by qualifying for their first Women's EURO after a tense play-off with Romania, but they soon topped that at the 2017 finals – beating Scotland 2-1 in a game that more than one player labelled "historic". They then came close to a draw against England which would have taken them through to the last eight.
The FPF used Portugal's qualification for Women's EURO 2017 to promote participation in the female game and remove prejudices, launching the 'Respond on the Pitch' campaign which yielded a 34% increase in players that year alone. In a football-mad country, the potential exists for the Portuguese women's game to match the heights reached by its male teams and stars. Upsetting the odds in England could be a spur, as the men showed back in 1966.
Here and now
Playing perspectives: Junior/ Senior
Forward Carolina Mendes, 34, went down in history as Portugal's first finals goalscorer when she scored in the 2-1 win over Scotland at Women's EURO 2017, while at 19, Francisca "Kika" Nazareth, netted her first international goals in preparation for Women's EURO 2022, her first senior international tournament.
Mendes: "I started playing football when I was 16 years old. It is a bit late. It was the only team that existed in my area."
Nazareth: "I had a transition from futsal to football - from when I was six until I was 13 or 14 years old I played futsal with boys, and I then transitioned to football and went directly to play with girls."
Joining the game in Portugal
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"Trailblazers" is a unique exhibition that showcases the work of European artists given a blank canvas to celebrate women’s football. UEFA invited artists from participating nations in this summer’s tournament to create an image inspired by the game in their country. Portugal's representative is Filipa Beleza: "My best memory of football was watching Portugal win EURO 2016, and celebrating it afterwards! I was inspired by the festive spirit that football brings out in people and wanted to portray the players in the field but also the kids playing in the streets, the groups of friends cheering both in the stadiums and at the cafes, restaurants and houses around the country and the tourists that get excited by the party atmosphere. Everyone comes together in a big celebration."
Investing for the future
Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP)
Since 2010, UEFA's WFDP has provided associations with funding and tools to increase participation, improve standards and build infrastructure to help keep the female game growing. One example of a project funded by the WFDP programme in Portugal is…
Development of the women's football league (2016–20)
Portugal focused on bolstering its women's football league via the establishment of a network connecting all stadiums where women's football is played and enabling the live-streaming of games to a central platform for redistribution. The goal was to promote women's football, boost participation and increase the exposure of women's matches to a wider audience, potentially leading to greater revenue.
The number of female participants more than doubled between 2016 and 2020, while women's football established itself as a very strong product for TV and streaming audiences. A partnership between a statistical provider and the FPF also allowed clubs in the women's Liga to access quality data on matches and players.