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   1 June, 2002 | 1230 IST



France get the blues

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Portugal taking nothing for granted

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Portugal, newly arrived in South Korea and looking to improve on a third place way back in 1966, are focusing on their World Cup opener against unfancied United States -- but they are taking nothing for granted.

On paper, a team that can call on talent creamed from Europe's top sides, should be able to defeat the United States, which lost all three of its first-round matches in the 1998 finals in France.

But the Portugal players are guarding against complacency before Wednesday's group D match in Suwon, a wise tactic in the light of Senegal's shock 1-0 defeat of champions France in the opening match of the tournament.

Luis Figo "Practice is always different," defender Beto Severo said after the side's first training session in South Korea on Friday. "There are no longer any teams that are winners before they come on to the pitch."

Beto, whose Sporting side won a league-cup double in Portugal, turned out for the practice with FIFA player of the year Luis Figo and AC Milan playmaker Rui Costa.

"It's a very lively group and we all get along well," Beto said afterwards.

"We're expecting a well organised, very fit U.S. team," he added. "But we also have our trumps, and hope our trumps are better than theirs."

The team arrived in the South Korea on Thursday, with the players saying they were relieved to leave behind the hot, muggy climate of Macao, where they had trained for 10 days.

They trained on Friday under tight security at the military academy in South Korea's capital Seoul.


Expectations in Portugal are running high for this World Cup, which will be the last chance to shine for Figo and Costa, both veterans of the "golden boys" side which won world youth championships in 1989 and 1991.

Portugal's best World Cup performance was third place in 1966, when it lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners England and Eusebio was the tournament's top scorer.

Eusebio says the current squad -- which reached the semi-finals of the European championships in 2000 -- has the ability to be the country's most successful at world level.

Goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira said a win against the United States would be a morale boost for a side determined to qualify for the second round at the very least.

"The first game is always important, if not decisive," Pereira said, adding that an opening win would calm nerves.

"Our main aim is to win the first clash, so we don't have to count points up till the final match," he said, but he added:

"We have to look out for the U.S. as a strong side which will make things hard, but we will worry more about what we will do rather than what other people will do."

After playing the United States, Portugal take on Poland in Chonju on June 10, and then joint tournament hosts South Korea on June 14, in Inchon.

"South Korea aren't so strong physically, but they are very fast and will be tough, as they will be motivated by playing in front of a home crowd," Pereira said.

France beat South Korea 3-2 in a friendly, only with a last-minute goal, but Portugal are not looking that far ahead.

"The Korea game is a long way off. We are concentrating on the U.S. and nothing else," Pereira said.

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