Straight-talking Bento keeps Portugal on right track

Last Updated: Saturday, May 17, 2014 - 10:57

Paulo Bento has bitter memories of major as a player, but as a coach he has given Portugal plenty of reason to be proud of their national team.

The `Seleccao` were at a low ebb when he was asked to replace Carlos Queiroz in 2010, at the start of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Bento turned a team that had just drawn 4-4 with Cyprus into one capable of reaching the semi-finals in Poland and Ukraine, where they eventually succumbed on penalties to Spain.

Bento, who will turn 45 in June, has played down Portugal`s chances of making a big impact at the World Cup. His stated aim is simply to escape from the Group G battle with Germany, Ghana and the United States, but his Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired side will need to be taken seriously.

Bento, who recently signed a contract extension through to 2016, has overseen a big improvement in the international performances of World Player of the Year Ronaldo, who has scored 26 goals in 33 games for Portugal since October 2010.

Before Bento was appointed, Ronaldo had found the net 23 times in 77 caps. But it is hardly surprising that Ronaldo is at ease in this side. When the winger emerged at Sporting Lisbon as a teenager, Bento was a respected senior playing colleague.

"I played with Paulo and learnt a lot with him when he was a player," said Ronaldo. "His job now is different, but he is the same in the way that he deals with the players. He has not changed."Others, like goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, played under Bento when he was coach at Sporting, overseeing the most successful period in their recent history.

Bento speaks frankly. When Ricardo Carvalho left the national team training camp before a match against Cyprus in 2011, he was described as a "deserter" by the coach.

Carvalho has not been picked again, but those who have Bento`s faith have returned it with consistent performances on the field, and after Portugal lost to Spain at Euro 2012, the coach talked of his team bowing out "with honour and pride".

He left Sporting in 2009 after a poor run of results, but his side came second to a powerful Porto team in four successive seasons while also winning the Portuguese Cup twice and reaching the Champions League knockout stages.

Bento played in the Sporting team that won the double in 2002, crossing the Lisbon divide after a previous spell at Benfica.

In between, the hard-working defensive midfielder spent time in Spain with Real Oviedo, while he also won 35 caps for his country.

But his international career is perhaps best remembered for his involvement in Portugal`s dramatic 2-1 Euro 2000 semi-final defeat to France in Brussels.

Humberto Coelho`s side were left furious when France won a penalty right at the end of extra time after Abel Xavier handled a net-bound Sylvain Wiltord shot, and Bento accosted the match officials after Zinedine Zidane had converted the spot-kick.

He was suspended for six months as a result, but he returned to feature at the 2002 World Cup.

That proved to be an agonising experience too, as a talented squad bowed out at the first hurdle, and Bento`s appearance in the 1-0 defeat to co-hosts South Korea was to be his last cap.

Such an early exit is not something that Bento is contemplating in his first World Cup as a coach.

AFP

First Published: Saturday, May 17, 2014 - 10:57

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