Euro 2012: Portugal aims for trouble-free Euros

Portugal’s path to this year’s European Championship hit a rocky

patch that brought the controversial dismissal of coach Carlos

Queiroz and recalled a long catalog of self-defeating disputes that

have dogged the national team.

Hallmark flair and talent on the field have occasionally fallen

afoul of hotheaded behavior at international tournaments and

unsettling off-pitch incidents.

As Portugal readied for its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign,

Queiroz was already a target for wide criticism after a

disappointing performance at the 2010 World Cup, where third-ranked

Portugal went out in the second round.

Then a 4-4 draw at home against lowly Cyprus followed by a 1-0

loss at Norway constituted Portugal’s worst start to a qualifying

series since 1996. Queiroz ended up being fired for misconduct in a

months-long headline-grabbing saga over whether he had disrupted a

doping test of his players.

Paulo Bento replaced him but ended up feuding with established

players. Bento banished center back Ricardo Carvalho after the Real

Madrid defender, angry he was going to be a substitute, walked out

of the squad ahead of a qualifier against Denmark. Bento then

ostracized right back Jose Bosingwa, accusing him of faking an

injury – an accusation the Chelsea player angrily denied.

Such off-the-field tension has a familiar ring in Portugal.

At the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, the Portugal squad announced it

was going on strike over prize money, advertising revenue and

training camp conditions. The so-called Saltillo Affair is viewed

as one of the darkest chapters in Portuguese football history.

Portugal, which had qualified for the World Cup finals for the

first time in 20 years, finished at the bottom of its group.

The national temperament was called into question again at Euro

2000. In a semifinal match against France, the game turned ugly

after Zinedine Zidane converted a penalty kick with three minutes

left in sudden-death extra time and the French won 2-1.

Portuguese players seethed at the penalty decision and rounded

on the referee and a linesman. Abel Xavier was suspended from

international competition for six months, Nuno Gomes got a

seven-month ban and Bento – now the national coach – was given a

five-month penalty for trying to snatch a red card from the

referee’s hand.

”In the heat of battle, you make mistakes,” Bento said.

The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan delivered another

miserable episode. Striker Joao Pinto, sent off for a nasty tackle

in Portugal’s 1-0 loss to South Korea, lost his temper and punched

the referee in the stomach. Pinto was given a six-month ban and

Portugal went out after the first round.

A Portuguese Football Federation report into that tournament

disclosed an atmosphere of deep antagonism and simmering feuds

among coaching staff.

Four years later, at the World Cup in Germany, the Portuguese

were at the center of the Battle of Nuremberg. Two Portuguese and

two Dutch players were sent off in Portugal’s 1-0 win over the

Netherlands that featured four red cards and 16 yellows – a World

Cup record.

”Portugal is not a violent team but sometimes we are portrayed

as being undisciplined,” said Luiz Felipe Scolari, the national

coach at the time.

But it wasn’t long before the Brazilian was in hot water for his

conduct, too. After the final whistle in a Euro 2008 qualifier

against Serbia in 2007, Scolari aimed a punch at Ivica

Dragutinovic. UEFA handed him a two-month ban for assault.

Success in Poland and Ukraine may depend on whether the

Portuguese can keep their tempers in check.