Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Pyrite Generation

In less than 12 hours, the US begins qualification for the 2006 World Cup (match preview upcoming). Bruce Arena's squad are coming off their magnificent peformance in the 2002 Cup, when they stunned the world by advancing to the quarterfinals. The USA began its run against heavily favored Portugal. The Portuguese squad, widely considered a darkhorse cup contender, was laden with world class talent. The core of the team, players such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Joao Pinto, were referred to as the "golden generation" for their success at youth level. These were players who had excelled with the biggest clubs in the world. Figo was the reigning world player of the year, and his transfer value was higher than that of every player in Major League Soccer combined. Surely this team would have their way with the lowly Americans, before going on to have a lengthy cup run?

When the two teams met, the USA took full advantage of a shaky Portuguese defense to build a 3-0 lead, and then held on for a 3-2 victory. The shocked Portuguese rebounded with a 4-0 thrashing of Poland, before self-destructing in a 1-0 defeat against South Korea. The "golden generation", in their one opportunity to prove themselves on the world's biggest stage, had pulled a choke job of epic proportions. One wag on dubbed them the "pyrite generation".

The golden generation, however, have been given one more chance to redeem themselves. Portugal is the host for the 2004 European Championships. As such, the Portuguese team qualified automatically for the competition. Yesterday, Portugal opened the tournament against Greece, a team making its first appearance in a major tournament since its abysmal 0-3 showing at the 1994 World Cup. Surely the Portuguese, playing at home, would have their way with the lowly Greeks?

Host nation Portugal's dream of winning a first major trophy turned into a nightmare when they were humbled 2-1 by Greece in the opening game of Euro 2004.

Portugal looked rattled from the first minute to the last against a Greece side that was inventive, concise and predatory - all words that could not apply to the host nation who were all fingers and thumbs at the Estadio do Dragao.

The more things change...


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