Portugal v Germany, June 9, 7.45pm
9 June ~ "It's like a circus!" Veteran coach Manuel José, most recently of Egyptian giants Al Ahly, came out and said what many have been thinking about Portugal's Euro build-up. There was the arrival of the stars at the training camp near the walled town of Óbidos, 90 kilometres north of Lisbon, in top-of-the-range cars that were like taunts to the austerity-battered Portuguese. There were the nightly behind-the-scenes images, filmed by the Football Federation and aired by TV channel SIC ("It's like Big Brother!" – Manuel José again).
The lengthy farewell from Óbidos, included speeches, a brass band, young girls dancing, a cod rap singer and the return to the hotel through the winding streets by horse and cart.
Meanwhile, and it felt like an afterthought, there was some football to be played. In the first preparation game in Leiria, the relaxed vibe of the camp seemed to be transposed directly onto the pitch. The Seleção drew 0-0 with John Toshack's Macedonia, at the time 93 places behind them in the FIFA rankings (Portugal have since dropped five places to tenth and are now behind all of their Group B rivals – Germany, Holland and Denmark).
At the Luz Stadium in Lisbon a week later, Portugal were much improved in patches but the defence had all but donned floppy shoes and red noses for the occasion, letting in three joke goals in the 3-1 defeat to Turkey.
Without a hint of irony, Paulo Bento called it "an extraordinary performance". Others also tried to put a gloss on it. "These two games don't mean anything to us. This oil spill will become a positive wave," promised Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed a penalty against Turkey. And Raul Meireles reminded us of recent history: "No one believed Chelsea could be European champions… so anything can happen."
Even getting out of the "Group of Death"? The biggest chunk – 28 per cent – of those surveyed in a poll by the newspaper Diário de Notícias this week didn't think so. In fact, the cautious optimism of a few weeks ago that this side could do something at Euro 2012 has become more like a cautious hope that they're not humiliated. If the defence play half as badly against Germany as they did against Turkey, who failed to qualify, then humiliation is exactly what Portugal will suffer.
And nor are people putting much money on salvation from the front: not counting the 6-2 demolition of Bosnia in the qualifying play-off, Portugal have scored just two goals in the last five games. The three out-and-out strikers – Hélder Postiga, Hugo Almeida and greenhorn Nélson Oliveira – inspire little confidence. To cap it all, Nani picked up a foot injury at the end of the Turkey game and may not be fully fit for Germany.
Portugal's record against one of the tournament favourites is four defeats, three draws and a win – a delicious 3-0 at Euro 2000. Given all the circumstances surrounding this campaign, a similar result is no more than wishful thinking for the Portuguese. Unless, that is, the words of the pilot on the squad's flight to Poland are an augury: "We're now passing Germany at 900 kilometres an hour. They've got no chance." Phil Town