Paulo Bento: I can’t really talk about what happened before I got there. What I can say is that I took over after Portugal had drawn with Cyprus and lost to Norway, so we had no margin for error. My first game in charge was a crucial battle with Denmark. We knew it was a case of do or die, but we also knew we had the quality and skill necessary to get back on the right track and qualify for Euro 2012. We proved that by winning that game and playing good football. It was a step in the right direction. I have to praise our players because they were fantastic in the way they adapted to my coaching team’s style right away.
Portugal have now failed to qualify automatically for the past two tournaments and have had to rely on the play-offs. Why is that?
Look, a qualifying campaign takes place over the period of a year and a half, so there are moments where a team cannot be at its best and one or two poor results can mean you miss out on automatic qualification. During this last qualifying phase we drew and lost our first two games so that made it harder. However, we only lost points again in our final game against Denmark, a team that had also finished ahead of us in qualifying for the World Cup. We can’t underestimate a nation like Denmark that has played in seven Euros and four World Cups.
How tough is it to manage so many big egos and famous players?
The players who are picked to represent the national team do so with great pride. They are all extremely professional. Each player obviously has his own personality and one must respect that. What is important is to make everyone feel like they are part of one group.
What is Cristiano Ronaldo like?
He is extremely professional and he is also a great guy. I worked with him while I was still playing and he always showed great determination to be the best player in the world. He is a very easy person to get along with. He is very well mannered, he likes to learn and he knows what he wants.
He has been criticised for being selfish when he plays for Portugal and not as good as when he plays for Real Madrid. How are you going to get the best out of him?
Cristiano Ronaldo always gives 100 per cent when he plays for the national team, just like every other player. I don’t think anyone can say he is not dedicated to the cause. In the national team we have less time to work with the players so it’s normal that their styles and performances can sometimes differ. Cristiano was our top scorer in qualifying. Some people always want more from him, but as far as I am concerned he has always been an exemplary professional and has always played well with the national team. Now we can’t expect Cristiano to solve all of our problems, that wouldn’t be fair. We must beat other teams as a team, not counting on just one or two individuals.
Why is there such a shortage of world-class strikers in Portugal?
We score a lot of goals regardless of the characteristics of our striker. Only three teams scored more goals than Portugal in qualifying. Pauleta was the all-time top scorer in the history of the national team, have you forgotten about him? Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga have lived up to my expectations. If the team score plenty of goals, it really doesn’t matter who gets them as long as we
win and our attacking plan works. We have a lot of attacking options and I am confident that our strikers are good enough to make an impact at the Euros. As far as who will start up front, I still have some time to decide.
After reaching the Euro 2004 Final and the semis of the World Cup, Portugal had lower performances
in 2008 and 2010. What are your expectations for Euro 2012?
Every team who makes the final phase of a tournament can dream of winning the title. The Euro is a very tough competition with a lot of teams at a similar level. As far as the last two major tournaments are concerned, I believe nothing really went wrong. In 2008 we lost to Germany, who made the Final, while in 2010 we were knocked out by Spain, who went on to lift the trophy. So they were solid performances. We will prepare for Euro 2012 in the best way possible and our first objective is to make the quarter-finals. I believe we can get that far even if our group is incredibly difficult.
Interview by Pedro Pinto