Portugal forward Nuno Gomes insisted that news of Luiz Felipe Scolari's departure had not distracted the team from their goal of winning UEFA EURO 2008™.
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Since the news broke that Luiz Felipe Scolari would be swapping Lisbon for London next month to take the reins at Chelsea FC, Portugal's impressive progress to the last eight of UEFA EURO 2008™ has risked becoming a mere subplot to the main story of the Brazilian's impending departure.
Focus on present
Inevitably there have been concerns expressed about the timing of the news and its impact on a Portugal squad who, through their opening wins over Turkey and the Czech Republic, had emerged as strong early contenders for the European crown. According to Nuno Gomes, one of the group's most experienced members, however, those fears are quite unfounded. "The players are concentrating on what we have to do and what we are here for and Mr Scolari is focused on what he has to do - on the present," said the SL Benfica forward. "He is doing what he has to do and we are paying attention only to this tournament and nothing else."
So no negative impact at all? "The mood hasn't changed. We are calm, we are cool," he replied. As a barometer of the mood within the Portugal squad, Nuno Gomes is probably as reliable as anyone. The only survivor of the team that reached the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2000™, the 31-year-old surpassed Luís Figo's record of appearances in major tournaments - of which this is is his fifth - when making his 17th in the 3-1 win over the Czech Republic and is now just two shy of Figo's 14 in UEFA European Championships.
Nuno Gomes, who scored five goals in the 2000 tournament, has played in a semi-final and a final on Europe's élite stage and is aware how difficult it will be for the Group A winners to go one step further this time. "All the teams we are going to face from now on will be strong teams but obviously we would love to get to the final. That is our aim but we are worried - first of all to find out who we will face in the quarter-final." Germany, second in Group B, are currently on course to play Portugal and Nuno Gomes said: "We saw Germany's first game and liked the team a lot. Against Croatia they didn't play very well but they still have a good team and, theoretically, are one of the favourites.
'Keep up good work'
"But you have to play the big teams - at EURO 2004, we faced Spain in the group stage and then Holland and England," he added. "In the World Cup we played against those teams [Netherlands and England] again." Before that, of course, Portugal face Sunday's final group fixture against an eliminated Switzerland side. Nuno Gomes will probably be one of several players to be rested but he stressed that "the team that will play will do everything possible to get a third victory". He continued: "It doesn't change the importance of it - we don't want to be defeated, nobody likes to lose and the team playing will be determined to keep up the good work and keep on performing as we have done."