Time for reconciliation as Portugal’s national team were trying to recover after the damage that had been inflicted on them with the infamous scandal, caused by an internal turmoil, that broke out during the 1986 World Cup. Their chances in the last Euro qualifiers were consequently more or less spoiled, but in 1988 there was renewed optimism before the start of the 1990 qualification in Group 7, as manager Juca again had a full-strength squad to choose from. Did this mean that Portugal were back to the level of the team from the mid-80s?
The outspring of Portugal’s trouble the last couple of years had been the so-called Saltillo affair: a player uprising during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when several players threatened to launch a strike, followed by general unrest in the squad and infuriation in the Portuguese media. In the wake of the scandals that took place under the 1986 World Cup, the inexperienced Ruy Seabra had controversially been appointed manager for Portugal. Under his new policy, some of the players that had been most impelling during the unrest were left out of the squad. This meant that Portugal had been missing several key players in their campaign for the 1988 Euro. Although his team did not do too badly, they failed to qualify and hit a low when they played a disappointing draw against Malta.
After the latter result, Ruy Seabra was sacked and the federation wanted someone who could bring reconciliation to the national team and bring Portugal to Italia’90. In Juca, the Portuguese federation found a trusted figure who could bringe a sense of continuity with the past. Born in 1929 and a manager for almost 30 years, only Guy Thys was older than Juca in the European qualification zone (This would also prove to be Juca’s ultimate manager job). A sense of optimism could be justified.
Juca’s immediate problem when he took over was to establish a new team. He recalled some of the key players that had been left out by Ruy Seabra, but also had the need to map the situation in Portuguese football and find new players. With the national team in shambles for some time, there was no longer any general consensus on the team selection in Portugal. Surprisingly, the federation didn’t follow up this by arranging international friendlies for Juca to assess his players. Ahead of the first qualifier for Italia’90, Portugal played only one friendly, while Juca certainly could have needed at least three.
12.10.1988 Sweden 0-0 Portugal
Portugal (5-4-1): Silvino – Toni Conceição, Oliveira, Morato, F Mendes, Nunes – Jaime Magalhães (Vítor Paneira h-t), Oceano, A Sousa, Chalana (F Gomes 79) – Jordão (c)
In Portugal’s first (!) international of ’88, they were held by Sweden in a game in which Vítor Paneira came on for the start of the second half for his first cap. Juca had fielded an inexperienced side in which 36 year old striker Jordão had been recalled for his 41st cap and was made captain. Portugal had deployed defensive tactics, only interested in a scoreless draw, playing five at the back and four across midfield.
16.11.1988 Portugal 1-0 Luxembourg
Portugal (4-2-4): Silvino – Jaime Alves, Sobrinho, Morato, Álvaro – Nunes, Rui Barros – Vítor Paneira, F Gomes (c), Jordão (Jaime Magalhães h-t), Futre
Against a plucky Luxembourg, Portugal made hard work of it, and the only goal came from captain Gomes after half an hour. Rising star Vítor Paneira proved his worth in midfield, whereas the rather inexperienced defence was never truly tested
25.01.1989 Greece 1-2 Portugal
Goal: Nunes, Vítor Paneira
Portugal (4-3-3): Silvino – João Pinto, Oliveira, Sobrinho, Veloso – Nunes, A Sousa, Semedo – Vítor Paneira (Adão 80), Rui Barros, Jordão (c) (Jorge Plácido 59)
A first international goal for midfielders Nunes and Paneira, the latter which won the game 25 minutes from time. Jordão carried the captain’s armband in what turned out to be his final cap, whereas left-sided midfielder José Semedo made his international debut
15.02.1989 Portugal 1-1 Belgium
Goal: Vítor Paneira
Portugal (4-3-3): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Oliveira, Sobrinho, Veloso – Nunes, A Sousa, Semedo – Vítor Paneira (César Brito 86), Rui Barros, Futre (Pacheco 61)
This was a more convincing performance by the Portuguese, in which Juca lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, finding the proper balance between work rate and flair. Vítor Paneira enjoyed a brilliant game down the right hand side, assisted by João Pinto, but Portugal did lack presence in the box to find the goals. They were looking fairly deserved winners until Silvino made a howler to give Belgium the equalizer.
29.03.1989 Portugal 6-0 Angola
Goals: Oliveira, Frederico 2, André, Nunes, Semedo
Portugal (4-3-3): Silvino – João Pinto (c) (Jaime Alves 73), Frederico, Oliveira, Fonseca – Nunes, Rui Barros (César Brito h-t), Semedo – Vítor Paneira (André h-t), Rui Águas, Pacheco (Domingos 76)
This was the 75th anniversary of the Portuguese FA, and they marked it with a match against a former colony of the country. They ran out easy winners, and saw three goals from central defenders as well as three goals from midfield. Juca had tried out three strikers in César Brito, Rui Águas and Domingos, who had a total of nine caps between them
26.04.1989 Portugal 3-1 Switzerland
Goals: João Pinto, Frederico, Vítor Paneira
Portugal (4-4-2): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Frederico (Oliveira 88), Sobrinho, Veloso – Vítor Paneira, Nunes, Sousa (Jorge Silva h-t), André – César Brito, Barros
The game had a poor first half, but Portugal sprung to life with three goals after the break. The home side were short in average appearance numbers, but still had an average age of more than 28 years. Two goals from defenders (João Pinto&Rosa) as well as one from a midfielder (Paneira)
08.06.1989 Brazil 4-0 Portugal
Portugal (4-5-1): Neno – João Pinto (c), Frederico, Sobrinho, Veloso – Vítor Paneira, Juanico, Nunes (Jaime Alves 43), Semedo (Vado 71), César Brito – Rui Águas
Juca had to make do without some of his better players and it showed as they were over-powered by an opponent physically stronger. Brazil had a great deal of possession in the opening 45 minutes, and could have been more than two up at half time. As the third goal arrived just after the break, it was game over. Juca had been displeased with his three man central midfield during the first half, so much so that he chose to take Adelino off and replace him with Jaime Alves, seeing Vítor Paneira into a more central role. Despite Brazil sitting back in the second half, Portugal were always second best and suffered two further second half strikes to go back home with a heavy defeat.
31.08.1989 Portugal 0-0 Romania
Portugal (4-4-2) : Silvino – João Pinto (c), Miguel, Venâncio, Veloso – Jaime Magalhães (Jorge Ferreira 67), Carlos Xavier, André, Vítor Paneira – Rui Águas, César Brito
Portugal held an increasingly goal shy Romania, but they seem to have a bit of a forward problem themselves: The last goal scored by a Portuguese striker had been Fernando Gomes’ goal against Luxembourg. Vítor Paneira appears here to have been a left winger, giving place to Jaime Magalhães on the opposite side.
06.09.1989 Belgium 3-0 Portugal
Portugal (4-3-3): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Sobrinho, Venâncio, Veloso – Vítor Paneira (Rui Águas 61), André, Carlos Xavier – Rui Barros, César Brito, Paulo Futre
Devastating score for Portugal, who were dreadfully exposed at the back. Their defensive line had looked unreliable earlier in the qualification, and Belgium punished them severely here. Before conceding, Juca appeared to have found the right strategy, though, with Futre breaking forward and on occasions almost coming clean through. The team’s willingness to attack was somewhat surprising, but arguably played to their strengths. As soon as the defence crumbled, it was always going to be difficult.
20.09.1989 Switzerland 1-2 Portugal
Goals: Futre, Águas
Portugal (4-4-2): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Venâncio, Frederico, Veloso – Jaime Magalhães (Rui Águas 43), Nunes, André, Vítor Paneira – Rui Barros, Futre
Portugal come from behind to gain both points in a win which had been more or less demanded from them after the set back in Belgium. Juca had set his team up in a 4-4-2, with right-sided midfield virtuoso Vítor Paneira so anonymous down the left flank and Portugal in general so beleaguered that the manager made a substitution before the half-time break in bringing on forward Rui Águas and switching to a 4-3-3. This gradually saw them improve in the second half, and they turned the game around with two goals. Paolo Futre the great inspiration with a goal and an assist.
06.10.1989 Czechoslovakia 2-1 Portugal
Portugal (5-3-2): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Sobrinho (Vítor Paneira 27), Frederico, Venâncio, Veloso – Nunes (Lima 71), Rui Barros, André – Paulo Futre, Rui Águas
Portugal play more than 70 minutes with a one man advantage, but lose out to two strikes by Michal Bílek. It’s a frustrating evening for Juca’s men, as they hardly find any spaces against a very deep-lying Czechoslovakian side. Changing to a narrow 4-4-2 after Griga’s expulsion didn’t seem ideal. Futre has his moments, while Rui Barros and V. Paneira are too anonymous. New striker Rui Águas shows his worth and scores Portugal’s only goal.
11.10.1989 Luxembourg 0-3 Portugal
Goals: Águas 2, Barros
Portugal (4-5-1): Silvino – João Pinto (c), Frederico, Venâncio, Fonseca (Pedro Xavier 33) – Vítor Paneira, Rui Barros, Nunes (Jaime Magalhães 64), Veloso, Lima – Rui Águas
Portugal’s fourth successive away match brought them level on points with Czechoslovakia after two strikes from Rui Águas and one from Rui Barros.
15.11.1989 Portugal 0-0 Czechoslovakia
Portugal (4-5-1): Silvino – João Pinto (c) (Vítor Paneira h-t), Frederico, Venâncio, Veloso – César Brito (Pedro Xavier 83), Rui Barros, Jorge Ferreira, Sousa, Pacheco – Rui Águas
Portugal gave their all to at least finish with a win. In order to progress to the World Cup finals, they would have to win by a margin of four goals, something which was never realistic. But they gave a committed display and put a very resilient Czechoslovakian side to the test. They should have scored through Brito, who had two big opportunities after the break. Right at the end, the visitors could have snatched victory through substitute Weiss. Portugal out but not down.
Portugal ultimately fail to qualify for Italia’90, losing out a place in the 1990 World Cup with two points. Where did it all go wrong?
Juca’s preparation for the qualification campaign had been a difficult one. With the start of his reign, reconciliation had begun after the disastrous Saltillo affair, but he had been given only one single friendly (v Sweden away) to prepare the team – far too little to assess his team selection or to make a new team blend. It is fair to say that Juca didn’t initially find the team selection he was happy with. Sweden away was also a strange choice since their first qualifier would be against Luxembourg at home: having spent the only friendly in a defensive mode and with Juca still unsure about his best side, the performance only yielded a 1-0 win. A disastrous result, it would turn out, as a poor goal difference made the final match against Czechoslovakia uninteresting. The suboptimal preparation did therefore perhaps contribute to Portgual’s verdict in this group.
From the match against Belgium (h), Juca’s team started to settle, usually consisting of a midfield trio and an attacking trio, resembling a lopsided 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 (one attacking winger plus one balancing wide midfielder), with some exceptions. This was a dynamic team that appeared to be well balanced and at times impressing in its swift attacking. Few teams in these qualifiers have shown themselves better at turnovers than Portugal, and perhaps no player excelling more in these situations than Futre.
While that encounter against Belgium in February 1989 saw the team settle, it also contained en episode that would haunt Portugal to the very end of the campaign. A later howler by Silvino gifted Belgium a point. A win would otherwise have put Portugal in the driver’s seat in the group. The result was followed by a comfortable win against Switzerland, ensuring that Portugal had 5 points from their three home fixtures so far.
Autumn 1989 started with three key battles away from home, where they crucially lost the two against their main rivals in the group, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. Yet, they were in both matches close to getting a result. They were eventually hammered 3-0 in Brussels, but again showed what a formidable threat they could be when breaking forward. In the end, their defence was heavily exposed – there had already been signs that the defence was not the best at organizing itself, and Belgium punished them relentlessly. As last time, a disappointing result against Belgium was followed by a good win against Switzerland, now with striker Rui Águas taking a more prominent role in the team.
More crucial, perhaps, was the defeat in Czechoslovakia, against what now proved to be the battle for the second qualification berth. Portugal played against 10 men for more than an hour, but succumbed to another sweet strike from Michal Bílek. You could even argue that Griga’s dismissal didn’t help Portugal, as a very cautious Czechoslovakia after that incident denied them the space which they needed to release Futre. Rui Águas was impressing in his lone striker role, giving Portugal the presence in the box which they at times had lacked, but as always the team seemed prone to let in goals.
There was a subdued end to their qualification campaign. They won by a three goal margin against Luxembourg (a), but the result between Czechoslovakia and Switzerland meant that Juca’s side would need to beat the former with four goals in the ultimate game. The decider never quite caught fire, ending in stalemate and 0-0.
How much separated Portugal from qualifying for Italia’90? Not too much, although this conclusion will suggest that Czechoslovakia maybe overall showed just a bit more quality than the Lusitanians. Juca possessed a very talented side and arguably found a good shape to the team already from his second game, which was an accomplishment given his difficult point of departure. Some of the attacking football showed by his team belonged to the top notch of European football, and Juca seemed to have found a good balance between work rate and balance, although they at times missed some presence in the box and firing power.
The real weakness of the team was the defensive structure – some good players, but they found it hard to organize themselves, and were punished by the good teams. Portugal only kept a clean sheet against Luxembourg and in the so-called decider against Czechoslovakia. There were certainly also individual mistakes to rue: Silvino’s error versus Belgium in February cost them a point, and Rui Barros missed no less than three glaring opportunities during the qualifiers. What if Rui Águas had been drafted into the team at an earlier stage? Even the very first match, against Luxembourg (h), was costly: the poor goal difference on the final day meant that they needed to beat Czechoslovakia with four goals. What if Juca had had time to prepare his team and soundly had beaten Luxembourg with f.ex. four goals?
Final position: 3 (out of 5)
Total record: 8 4 2 2 11-8 10
Home record: 4 2 2 0 5-2 6
Away record: 4 2 0 2 6-6 4
Number of players used: 29
Number of players including unused substitutes: 35
Ever-presents (720 mins): 2 (Silvino and Barros)
Leading goalscorer: Rui Águas 4
Yellow/red cards: 11/0
|José António Lima||2||1||1||109|
– game by game
|Player||Lux (h)||Bel (h)||Sui (h)||Bel (a)||Sui (a)||Cze (a)||Lux (a)||Cze (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|