TugaScout is an English-language site reporting on matters associated with Portuguese football by freelance writer Alex Goncalves, offering the latest news, reviews and opinions surrounding the Portuguese League and the Seleção players based abroad.

'What a time to be a Portugal supporter'

'What a time to be a Portugal supporter'

Author of photograph: Fritz Duras. Original uploader was Trainspotter at  de.wikipedia .

Author of photograph: Fritz Duras. Original uploader was Trainspotter at de.wikipedia.

It is fascinating, almost surreal, to recall that before the turn of the century, Portugal qualified for just four major tournaments in the space of six and a half decades. They were, to all intents and purposes, true minnows of world - and indeed European - football.

That's sixty-five years, two World Cup appearances from a total of 15 qualification attempts, and two European Championship showings from a possible ten. In total, therefore, four major tournaments from 25 attempts.

Fast forward to the year 2000 though and, just like that, everything changes. Since the beginning of this century, Portugal have qualified for every single edition of both the World Cup and the European Championship without fail, a feat few nations have achieved in the same 18 year period; five European Championships, five World Cups, all in a row.

This whole century has been a dream for a nation that was quite recently not even on the periphery of greatness, and it is important not to take this prolonged success for granted. After all, few nations the size of Portugal get to experience witnessing such continued competitiveness at the highest level of the international game, a sustained journey that has already exceeded expectations and that you never know when will end.

The likes of Denmark and Greece have both won the Euros, for example, in 1992 and 2004 respectively, against all the odds achieving the ultimate continental success. They have similar population sizes of Portugal and had a similar standing to Portugal going into each of those tournaments, and defied expectations by lifting the trophy.

But their place at the pinnacle of international football was short-lived, with neither considered heavyweights of national football and neither having even come close to replicating that success since. With Portugal, however, the truly competitive nature of the national team has only, quite breathtakingly, continued, and they have, for many, become true global players in the footballing world.

Starting with Portugal being awarded the chance to host the Euros in 2004, everything began to come together for a nation craving success. With a 'Golden Generation' coinciding with the chance to watch a major tournament in the country for the very first time, Portuguese fans were left dreaming of success that was, only a matter of years earlier, deemed virtually impossible.

It should also be recalled that, in that very same year, Porto, also against the odds, ended up lifting the biggest prize in club football, beating Monaco in the Champions League final to win Europe's most prestigious competition for just the second time in their history. If further indication that this was Portugal's year was needed, look no further than the heroics of Mourinho's men!

However, the Euros started with despair for Portugal, who suffered a shock defeat to Greece to put their hopes of even making it out of the group in huge doubt. But the journey was far from over, and Portugal still advanced through every stage of the tournament, dispensing of historically powerful nations in Spain, England and The Netherlands in the process, to reach uncharted territory - the final.

Facing the team that beat them in the first fixture of the tournament, it was utter despair for Portugal in Lisbon, as they once again fell to defeat to the Greeks, throwing away as good a chance to win a major tournament as they would surely ever have.

The disappointment was paramount; fans and players alike despondent and inconsolable at the full-time whistle, a sickening amalgamation of disbelief and devastation etched on the face of each and every Seleção supporter who were all buoyed by the prospect of witnessing what just a decade earlier seemed a virtual impossibility.

With time and in hindsight, of course, Portugal fans can still look back at that tournament with great pride and have some very fond memories, but at the time, most will have believed that they threw away their one chance in a lifetime of winning a major trophy.

But the good times have only continued from there. Reaching the semi-final of the very next World Cup with an ageing golden generation, you would be forgiven for thinking that Portugal's relative success was close to coming to an end.

But up turns a young starlet Cristiano Ronaldo, himself surrounded by a good combination of flair and efficiency, and Portugal continued to qualify for every tournament football had to offer. It has become such a regularity, almost a certainty in fact, that simply qualifying for a major tournament is, at this point, now no longer considered anything close to a success on its own, and qualification is by now just an expectancy, a certainty, which in itself has to be considered something of a success.

It's easy to take it for granted, of course. There are only four or five other European nations that can feel such confidence heading into any qualification campaign, and it puts Portugal in a bracket alongside world powerhouses such as Germany, France and Spain, a perfect illustration of Portugal's incredible rise.

At club level, things haven't been quite as successful for Portuguese outfits since that Porto triumph in 2004, but there was that extraordinary Europa League campaign in 2010 where three of the four semifinalists of Europe's secondary competition were Portuguese, with Porto, Braga and Benfica all making the final four, Porto and Braga then playing out an all-Portuguese final.

But it is at international level where Portugal's progress has been most distinct. With Portuguese talents beginning to disperse across the continent and play for some of the biggest clubs in the game, the national pool has only continued to increase and the strength in depth of the Portuguese squad is clear for all to see.

With a superagent in Jorge Mendes on side and actively promoting Portuguese stars to clubs around the globe, added to the fact that the biggest clubs in Portugal have been heavily investing in their youth academies and youth recruitment, Portugal's senior team and youth sides have become real forces in the final game, meaning that both the present and the future are filled with excitement and hope that Portugal can take it on to a new level and build on their extraordinary Euro 2016 success.

The fact that the under-19s won the European Championship in style only this year is testament to that, and with more internationals at their disposal than they have ever seen before, it is a truly wonderful time to be a fan of the Seleção. And, now into the semifinals of yet another competition in the UEFA Nations League, a tournament that Portugal will also be hosting, there's yet another event for Portugal supporters to look forward to. (SPOILER: We won!)

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