It took 48 games to get to this point in the tournament. There are 4 teams left, one of them will go home with the greatest sporting honor any country can hold: they’ll be los Campeones del Mundo, Champions of the World at the World Cup of Football.
As we head to the semi-finals, I’ll be posting a brief description of each of the countries left in the tournament.
It may be that no team in this alternate universe has a more compelling story of redemption to tell than the Portuguese.
In real life 1986, Portugal had a strong team heading into the World Cup. In fact, the team was coming off of a semi-finals showing at the Euro 84, losing in extra time to the eventual champions, France in a match that many still call one of the most exciting in European Championship history. The team then qualified for the World Cup when they became the first country to ever defeat West Germany on West German soil. The Portuguese had high expectations for the team, and deservedly so.
After beating England 1-0 in the first game of the Group Stages, things looked good for the Portuguese.
But things were not well in Portuguese camp. Caso Saltillo, a major scandal, was about to break.
After being beaten by a Polish team that was perceived to be of much lesser strength, and then being soundly destroyed by a Moroccan team that was making its first Cup appearance, the Portuguese people wanted to know what happened.
The short version of the story: Portuguese players were upset with their share of the World Cup winnings and they threatened to strike. The long version involves one player caught using steroids, a sloped training pitch, a shady Mexican hotel filled with women and a “helpful guide” who absconded with much of the players’ cash. Though the players didn’t miss any matches, they refused to train between matches until their bonuses were increased “to over $2000 per game”.
As it turns out, the mismanaged, unmotivated, and under-trained team had no chance. Their loss in 1986 has haunted the Portuguese International team ever since.
In Mea Copa, the dice have been kind. To bring true glory to the Portuguese, however, the rolls will have to continue to go their way against their Iberian nemesis: Spain.