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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
Portugal's golden goodbye
Joao Pinto of Portugal is sent off during the match against South Korea
Portugal's World Cup ended in disarray

England v Portugal | Villa Park | Saturday, 7 September kick-off 1600 BST | Live on BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Sport Online

Although the winners were, predictably, Brazil, let us not forget that this year's World Cup was littered with shocks.

Few predicted the ignominous exit of champions France in the first round, Argentina's early flight home, South Korea's win over Italy and Turkey's third place.

Fancied Portugal's inept and ill-disciplined performance would also have had fans reaching for their smelling salts.

After all, the current crop of Portuguese stars, known as the 'Golden Generation' since lifting the World Youth championships in 1989 and 1991, are known throughout Europe.

  No silverware for Golden Generation
World Cup 2002:
Group stage
Euro 2000:
Semi-finalists
World Cup 98:
Did not qualify
Euro 96:
Quarter-finalists
World Cup 94:
Did not qualify
Euro 92:
Did not qualify

And impressive displays in Euro 2000 were followed by a qualifying campaign which led many to tip them as possible World Cup winners.

Yet just 36 minutes into their opening game against the USA, and the sound of dropped bacon sandwiches hitting the floor could be heard all over Portugal.

The Golden Generation were in total disarray having gone 3-0 down, and looking like a shambles.

An improved display against a deeply unimpressive Poland proved a false dawn as two sendings off against South Korea ensured another defeat and an early exit.

"The greatest nightmare of all has become painfully real," said sports daily O Jogo, as even the Portuguese began to feel their team were more like fools than gold.

Looking at the talent Portugal still possess, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where they went wrong.

Perhaps it was a case of complacency.

The attacking talents of Luis Figo, Pauleta and Nuno Gomes should have been too strong for the USA, and should still be a real threat to all teams.

Perhaps the coach was tactically naive.

Antonio Oliveira has been dismissed after the World Cup debacle and namesake, under-21 coach Agostinho Oliveira, appointed.

Perhaps, the spine of this Portuguese team is, simply, more olden than golden.

Fernando Couto and Paulo Bento will both be pushing 35 by 2004, while the talismanic Figo will be approaching his 32nd birthday.

Fernando Couto
Fernando Couto is in the twilight of his career

But Portugal supporters will be hoping home advantage takes years off these players - and history offers them some hope.

The phenomenal support for South Korea turned them from World Cup makeweights to impressive semi-finalists.

France recovered from Euro 96 disappointment to become World Cup winners in 1998.

And even England's semi-final place at Euro 96 was a pretty impressive turnaround for a team which failed even to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

It does seem inevitable, however, that the Golden Generation will ultimately fall short of the high expectations placed upon them by their fans.

Rebuilding this side will take time, although Oliveira is clearly keen to start the process against England, with eight of the World Cup squad axed to make way for new faces.

A blend of youth and experience could yet prove the ideal combination for Portugal, and this friendly will be a good test for the new-look side.

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