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   June 4, 2002 | 1050 IST



France get the blues

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Portugal's double act ready to shine

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By playing together since they were world youth champions in 1991, Portugal's Rui Costa and Joao Pinto have formed a powerful double act which they hope will unsettle defences in the World Cup as it did in the 2000 European championship.

"No, I don't need him (Rui Costa)!" striker Joao Pinto joked after training in Seoul on Monday. "Seriously, I hope it (the pair) will be a trump card for us."

Known during a long stint at Fiorentina as the "conductor of the Florentine orchestra", midfield playmaker Rui Costa set up a deadly header for diminutive Joao Pinto which was crucial in turning an early 2-0 disadvantage to a 3-2 victory over England in the 2000 European Championship.

Portugal reached the semi-finals of that tournament, and are still smarting from their exit due to a golden goal penalty for a controversial Abel Xavier handball in extra time against eventual winners France.

"Sadness remains over the way we were knocked out, but we are also proud of what we achieved," Rui Costa said.

The team is determined to do well in this tournament, which is the last chance to shine for players around the 30-mark like Rui Costa and Joao Pinto, as well as Portugal's other "golden boys".


Luis Figo The mature line-up also includes the FIFA player of the year Luis Figo, fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid, Lazio star Fernando Couto, and English premier league defenders Jorge Costa and Xavier.

"We believe this is a great opportunity, because no Portuguese side has ever gone to a World Cup with as much credit as this one," Rui Costa said.

Rui Costa has had a frustrating season plagued by injuries at AC Milan, and had to miss many of Portugal's World Cup warm-up games, but has joined in full training sessions held first in Macao and now under tight security at Seoul's Military Academy.

"I feel fine, I am going well, I've forced myself along with my team-mates so that we can reach peak fitness," Rui Costa said.

Joao Pinto added that "players like Rui don't take long to get back on form".

Joao Pinto's own fitness and form have been in no doubt, especially after what fans and opponents alike consider to have been one of his finest domestic seasons, in which his Sporting side landed a league-cup double.

Although less prolific as a goalscorer than team mates at club and international level, he is effective in his preferred role of supporting a lone striker to "spearhead" the attack.

Now Joao Pinto and Rui Costa say they can barely wait for their first group D clash against the United States in Suwon on Wednesday, the last of the 32 nations here to kick off.

"It's controlled anxiety. We are more anxious now than in Macao, and are waiting for our turn," he said calmly. "But we're experienced players, we can handle anxiety."

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