International Soccer Network

"Your Source for the Beautiful Game"

My World Cup Journey has Ended

Portugal was defeated by Spain 1 to 0. Portugal was in Group G, “The Group of Death” that included Ivory Coast, North Korea and Brazil. Portugal played against number 1 team in the world, Brazil and number 2 in the world, Spain. I believe our players represented Portugal with dignity, honor and pride. Although we are sad and disappointed and certainly not satisfied to have to leave South Africa at this stage of the competition, we do come home with our heads held high. It was an absolute fantastic experience.

I want to share my gratitude for all your kind comments and support throughout my World Cup experience. I never say goodbye, but instead see you soon my friends. Now, I am anxious to return to the U.S. and see my family and friends and to share my unique experiences as an American born coach participating in the 2010 South Africa World Cup with the Portugal National Team. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a professional coach as well as have the opportunity to make contributions at the highest levels.

Dan Gaspar’s Interview with Rogers Sportsnet

When you start the journey that is the World Cup, there’s always a sense of anxiety. You try to focus on the two segments of the tournament: there’s the qualification aspect, which Team Portugal has already achieved, and then there’s the knockout phase, which requires a winning mentality. The loser goes home and the winner stays. We’ve reached that stage and we don’t want to go home. As Team Portugal prepares for the match against Spain, we’re in a good space and a good frame of mind. The game plan is on track. We haven’t conceded a goal at the World Cup and if we can maintain that discipline and sense of structure, we’re always in a position to compete.

I think our game against Spain is going to be a lot like a boxing match. Each opponent is going to take a few punches here and there to see how the other team adjusts and reacts. That will determine the rhythm of the match and I think that will be extremely important. These are two teams with skilful players who will try to assess the opposition. The teams who are able to identify and expose areas of weakness and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes generally are the teams that come out on top. It’s only natural that the history between these two nations gives the match a bit more significance. After all, we are neighbors. It’s also kind of ironic that the two counties have combined efforts to bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and now we’re in opposing positions where one of us will go home.

Entering the knockout phase, there has been a greater emphasis on penalty kicks in training. We divide the players into three teams with each player taking three penalty kicks, rotating at three different goals. I’ve taken the opportunity to share my philosophy on defending penalty kicks with Portugal’s three goalkeepers. Ultimately, it’s their style and personality that should dictate how they react to a shooter. There are a number of things a goalkeeper can look for as the opposing player prepares to shoot. Essentially, it’s psychological warfare between the shooter and goalkeeper. When penalty kickers train, they try to master a routine: they get a bag of balls, put them down, place one ball down in a particular way with the valve facing a certain way, they take so many steps in their approach. What a goalkeeper can try to do is interrupt that routine and there are various ways to do that: taking their time to set up, walking up to the ball, moving on the line, switching to a second pair of gloves.

Then, you get into the technical aspects by looking at the approach the shooter takes. If it’s a normal approach to the ball, then in most cases it’s a normal swing from the player. For example, if a right-footed shooter stands to the left of the ball, then the natural swing would be the right foot kicking to the right of the goalkeeper. If there’s some sort of deception used, like a long run to the ball or a short arching one, they’re likely to go against their natural swing. Then, a goalkeeper can look at physical aspects such as where the hips are facing. If the hips are opened up to a certain side, then generally that’s where the ball is going. These things happen very quickly and it’s very difficult to process all this in a few split seconds. Some players are getting craftier now. They have those little hesitation run-ups to see if a goalkeeper moves. If he does and the shooter is clever enough and skilled enough to go to the other side, he has an advantage. If a goalkeeper doesn’t fall for it, the shooter will try going to his strongest side.

And of course, we try to get a history on the opposing players. Even during the match, you try to study the tendencies of certain players. If a player has had several shots on goal and tends to go to the same side, chances are that’s his favorite side in taking a penalty kick. Sometimes during a warm-up before games, a potential penalty taker wants to practice his penalties and we try to alert our team to those types of situations. All these may help prepare a goalkeeper, but I don’t have the perfect answer or solution. If I did, then you could only imagine how valuable I would be to a team!

On Monday night before the match, we had a special guest visit the Portugal team. Francois Pienaar, the former rugby player who captained the Springboks when they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, spoke to the players. If you’ve seen the movie Invictus with Matt Damon as Francois and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, then you are familiar with his story. The players watched an edited down version of the movie and the highlight of the presentation was having Francois there to give an incredible inspirational message to the team. Number one, he asked the players to imagine. He asked them to imagine the support of the nation; to visualize those young boys and girls who wear their jerseys with their names on it to bed the night before in great anticipation to watch them play. Number two was no “ifs.” Don’t accept the word “if” like, “What if I don’t make the right pass? What if I don’t make the right tackle? What if I don’t take the right shot?” He told the team to remove that word from their language. Instead use the word “if” I do this than there is a positive outcome. And the third point was positive energy. From the moment you wake up, maintain positive energy because it’s contagious. Francois truly captivated our players and he left them with one final message: Don’t play with fear, but play with excitement.

Portugal’s Magical Moment

Now that is how you play football! Portugal’s 7-0 win over North Korea on Monday was obviously a big moment for the team. It really was the perfect game for Portugal. Our head coach Carlos Queiroz and staff prepared the team very well. The tactical plan was executed flawlessly by our players. We saw great mental preparation from the players so we couldn’t have asked for a better effort or a better result. You could see the desire in their eyes and could feel the intensity in the locker room. And most importantly, it certainly puts us in a very good position to get through to the next round.

Having six different players score for our team was huge. To have that kind of variation in scoring, from six players, is tremendous for Portugal. It was a total team effort. The team had four changes in the starting line-up from the previous match and that can be a primary motivator for the players. For the coaching staff, it’s important to have players who can be called upon at any given moment. We have a roster of 23 and we know we can depend on any of those players to get the job done. They all have been prepared to be called upon if needed.

I think the biggest difference between this win and our draw against Ivory Coast was our flank play, and quick and deep runs from midfield. They were all very effective. And to the credit of the North Koreans, they came to play. Even though they use a 5-3-2 system, which is a very defensive set-up, they came to play football. Ivory Coast literally parked the bus in front of goal against us and were just totally reliant on counter attacking. Portugal’s last matches against North Korea, the 5-3 comeback win at the 1966 World Cup, certainly served as motivation for our team.

Two great players who played that game and were part of that successful run in 1966, the legends Simoes and Eusebio, are here with the team. They are here to offer inspiration and wisdom and to share their knowledge and experiences. I would have to say that that was a factor in our performance. And Both Simoes and Eusebio were extremely excited and thrilled about this 7-0 win, so that shows you how historic a result this was for the Portuguese team. What’s important now is to focus on the next task at hand. When you’re in the winning business, all a victory does is bring relief. You only celebrate when you win a championship so for us the win was a relief and it instilled a tremendous amount of confidence, enthusiasm and spirit. After the match, you enjoy the moment but as of this morning we start preparations for Brazil.

I believe the Magic began a few days before our match versus North Korea It was not a great pass, spectacular finish or perfectly timed tackle. It was Bingo! We played Bingo in South Africa. In Portugal we would play every other day. Often times for no particular reason staff and administrators would win the prizes. The players would always complain that it was the same winners all the time. When we played in South Africa the players asked two servers of the hotel to sit with them and enjoy the game of Bingo. Well, guess who won the first bingo game. It was me the American! I was the first to complete one line with the correct numbers. The second prize was won by one of the servers. He had a huge smile on his face while he was collecting his prize. The team leaped from their chairs and gave him a standing ovation. It was a celebration. Well, guess what happened next? The second prize was won by the other server. Once again there was a standing ovation and celebration. I wondered how this was possible. The numbers were called out in Portuguese. The servers had no idea what numbers they were calling.

The players decided collectively that when a number was called they would tell the servants it was a number on their card, even though it was incorrect. The servers had no idea and believed they had won. It was an act of kindness and concern for others. Naturally, I could not be selfish and keep my prize. We called someone from the kitchen and I donated my prizes to them. The kitchen employee put the prizes down on the floor and starting dancing and chanting. We all were jumping up and down with joy. I felt I was at a church revival. His happiness was contagious. The Valley Lodge manager was thrilled for the employees. She told me the winners gave her all her prizes to put into the safe. She said the winners were considering various options on how to get the prizes home safely. Why? Because these are prime prizes that if they walked home with them there would be a good probability that they would get stolen.

Here we are in a room full of super egos with great abilities to play soccer; Portugal’s national gladiators who are preparing themselves for battle to defend their country on the soccer field. Yet, they were sensitive enough to recognize that the servers were the stars tonight. For sure the servers will never forget this evening. This experience for me has not only been about the X’s and O’s, it’s been about the human side of things and the goodness that we are all capable of sharing. It was a magic moment. The feeling in the room was of joy and happiness for the three servers who won the prizes. I will never forget the atmosphere and the kindness of our players. Having the humility to understand at that moment was really important. It was moving moment for me and those who were present. You know, I was thinking of the differences of being associated with a team that qualifies for the World Cup as compared to being a fan at a World Cup. I would not give up my seat for anyone, but other than game day we are isolated from the World Cup atmosphere.

My family called me the night before the North Korea match. I asked, “What’s all that noise?” They told me that the Portuguese immigrants have taken over Cape Town. People would be having dinner and someone would stand and begin to sing the Portuguese National Anthem. We are not exposed to the spirited environment. Just before kickoff against North Korea I had a huge surprise. One of the staff members sitting in the stands was able to get my attention. I was able to run over and give my wife and sons a kiss and a hug. It was a very surreal moment. I could see their happiness and pride for their husband and dad.

Game Must Be More than Vuvuzelas and Jabulani

Figo, 2001 FIFA Player of the Year and former Portugal National Team captain, and Pauleta (all-time leading goal scorer for the Portugal National Team) stopped by our hotel to give their best wishes.

Our first match of the World Cup was a draw versus Ivory Coast. This game highlighted the challenges of Group G also known as the “Group of Death.” This means any one of the four teams has the potential to be one of the two teams that is capable of getting through to the next round. They waited until the deadline to decide if Drogba would dress and he did. He sat on the bench for Ivory Coast. No doubt he is their leader. I noticed after the game he pulled his teammates together and formed a circle. This leads me to believe he is also their spiritual leader. When he stood on the touchline to come into the match, the roar of the crowd shook the stadium. When he entered the field you could sense his presence. The only time that I had a similar sensation was when I was with the South African National Team and Thierry Henry from the French National Team came into the game. Like Drogba, when Henry received the ball everyone on the pitch backed off out of respect for his ability.

There were over thirty seven thousand people attending the game. All six African teams who have qualified for the World Cup will be well supported and stadiums packed to the max. Lots of attention has been given to the Vuvuzelas and the adidas soccer ball — Jabulani. My thoughts are that we are guests of South Africa and that the Vuvuzelas is part of their culture and we need to accept the Vuvuzelas as part of the soccer match. The Vuvuzela has definitely made the South African World Cup unique. It is a reverberating sound that makes bench and player communication impossible. It’s a plastic horn buzzing sound and has become an iconic accessory at the matches.

Everyone is going ballistic over the new adidas ball, Jabulani. The name of the ball Jabulani means “happiness.” Apparently it has brought very little happiness to goalkeepers and field players. There are eleven colors in the ball representing the eleven languages in South Africa and also the eleven players that lined up before the game. Should Portugal get into the next round, we will play our matches in higher altitude. The ball will move a little faster and bounce higher. In my opinion, too much focus has also been given to the adidas ball.

The goals conceded that I have observed have not been a result of the trajectory of the ball, but rather technical mistakes from goalkeepers. It is what it is. Inside this ball are their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Players need to love the ball. Quality, technical players will adjust and discover the best way to manage the ball. The ball dips and bends and players need to keep their eyes on the ball at all times. Players cannot assume anything. The World Cup should not be about the Vuvuzelas or the adidas ball; it should be about the game.

I had the good fortunate of bumping into Didier Drogba after the game and naturally took a photo with him. My first impression was good. He was pleasant and patient. We needed to take three photos to get it right and he accommodated me.

In the past World Cups the African players were free spirited. They played with joy and imagination — no fear of losing, sending numbers forward. Today, many of the African players are playing in top clubs around the field where they must be responsible and accountable for their actions. Tactically they are more disciplined and the African countries expectations are higher than the past. So, the fear of losing has increased. Fewer risks are taken. More of a defensive position with quick counters is implemented.

The entire country is euphoric about Bafana Bafana. The entire country stops to watch and support their national team. I hope they move on to the next round. This World Cup is more than just a soccer tournament for South Africa. It’s a moment for them to shine and potentially be a moment of glory. They want to prove to the world against all odds that they can successfully host the world’s biggest sporting event. It’s a rebirth, a second wind for this country and continent. It was Nelson Mandela’s dream to unite the nation through sport. So far the World Cup has taken my breath away. The true test in any major event is to take this amazing and wonderful spirit beyond July 11th.

We need a positive result versus North Korea. They managed a goal against Brazil. They are disciplined and well organized with two quality forwards. We need to find the back of the net more than they do.

Moment of Truth for Portugal National Team

The moment of truth is just around the corner. Portugal plays its first World Cup match, Tuesday, June 15th at 4:00 pm versus Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth at the beautiful Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. As many of you know, we defeated Cameroon 3-1 in a preparation match in Covilha, Portugal. Eighty thousand people bid us farewell from the Eduardo VII Park as we departed from Lisbon. When we arrived in Johannesburg we were greeted by thousands of Portuguese immigrants at the airport as well as along the highway. I’ve never seen so much green and red colors. Portuguese immigrants are the largest number of immigrants in South Africa. Our training sessions are also attended by thousands of Portuguese fans. According to the police, 200 cars followed us to our final destination.

There are eight teams who are receiving the most security attention. The United States is considered a high-risk team and has extensive security. The Portugal National Team is also on that list as a result of the popularity of the team.

We also defeated Mozambique 3 to 0. These results were beneficial on many levels. Cameroon and Mozambique are similar in many aspects to Ivory Coast. These positive results have build momentum and confidence that will prepare us versus Ivory Coast. Our players have worked very hard physically, emotionally, mentally and tactically to meet the challenges of our World Cup opponents. Our desire and hope is that our players can deliver the results that will make all Portuguese citizens and fans proud of our efforts. Soccer is without doubt full of surprises. The expectations are high and the demands are immense, but our hope is that we realize our potential.

The Portugal National Team and staff understand that is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We cannot make any guarantees, but we can promise that everything they have will be left on the field. A strong team becomes one in purpose and desire. Carlos Queiroz has done a very good job in organizing events to establish cohesiveness, both on and off the field. Everyone is encouraged to participate and communicate in team building activities, creating a dynamic environment and encouraging creativity. You can build trust with well planned activities. The goal is to strengthen the group through building team work. A soccer team is a collection of people who come together to share something in common. In our case, it’s to go as far as we possibly can in the World Cup, preparing our team to be in the best position to compete.

Our circle is closed tight. I cannot share our preparation in detail, in particular on the field preparations and team meetings. Those are sacred areas and require ultimate respect and confidentiality. However, here are some off the field activities that you might be interested in knowing about.

Portugal Air Force

Our players lived a different experience. When our players arrived at Santos Pinto Stadium they were surprised to discover that they would be trading their uniforms and soccer shoes for camouflage military clothes, painted faces with National Team colors and were given paint ball arms. The Portuguese Air Force turned the soccer stadium into a theater of combat and special operations. They were involved in a strategy of cooperation organized by the Portugal Air Force. The focus was on creating a spirit of cohesion, loyalty, discipline and completing a mission. We all had to work together in order to achieve success. Our team was divided into two groups. Each had to perform activities that required cooperation and communication. After each event they earned an envelope with a note inside. Gathering all the envelopes allowed the players to group the notes together to understand the mission. The leader of each group read a quote from Aristotle and Christopher Reeve.

Joao Garcia

Joao Garcia is an alpinist. He is one of ten who have climbed 14 of the biggest mountains in the world without oxygen. His idea was if one Portuguese has climbed the biggest mountains then one team can win the World Cup. His message was that you need to love what you do and do it with honesty and hard work; that the event should be the motivation and that anything is possible. He said that 12 people have gone to the moon, but only 10 have climbed the 14 biggest mountains.

Black Eyed Peas Concert

The Black Eyed Peas held a concert in Lisbon, Portugal at the Portugal National Team Stadium. The Portugal National Team adopted the song ‘I Gotta Feeling’ as its theme. We were in Covilha at our training camp and could not attend the concert. They organized a live feed to the concert and transmitted images of our team and staff viewed on a large TV screen at the stadium as 40 thousand people chanted ‘Portugal, Portugal Portugal.’ The song ‘I Gotta a Feeling’ has motivated us, relaxed us and helps give us positive results. As Nani said we would have loved to attend the concert, but we cannot and asked the crowed to enjoy the concert for us.

Fernando Rocha

Comedian Fernando Roach performed for our team. Laughter is a great stress reliever. He had us all rolling on the floor. By the end of the evening we felt like we had done a thousand sit-ups. Our abdominals were sore because of the strain of laughter.

Lion Park Safari

You cannot come to South Africa and not experience a Safari. We had three jeeps filled with players, coaching staff and administrators. We saw plenty of animals and took plenty of photos. Although we felt safe inside the jeep, it’s amazing to see such great athletes and players fear and respect these massive, dangerous animals, especially the lions. That was another great team event that helped bring the team together. When you are together for over a month team bonding is crucial on and off the field.


After our victory against Mozambique we attended a Gala. One of our players and a coach sat at each of the tables. It was a first class occasion. Coach Queiroz, Ronaldo, Simao and Deco were on stage to answer questions. We were all in our official Portugal suits. My guess is that there were at least 400 people in attendance. It was a fun evening with excited Portuguese fans from South Africa. Bingo Often we play Bingo. There are lots of drama and plenty of banter. One night, I got up and yelled, “I Love the Game!” They assumed I won, but I never said ‘Bingo.’ Countless dinner napkins were tossed at me. It’s on video… cannot wait to see it!

H20 Spa

Incredible spa facility… Naturally these superstars have traveled the world and have experienced the best of the best. They were impressed with the first-class environment. After a demanding training camp in Covilha it was a great move to have the players relax and regenerate. Players had all types of relaxation methods — from the pool, sauna, steam, hot and ice baths, massages, fresh and salt water, whirl pool etc. The spa was on top of a mountain with some great views. Everyone was chilling, big time!

Fernando Ferreira

Fernando Ferreira, a world-class singer, performed for us. He imitates 100 voices of famous singing artists in several languages. He was amazing and our players and staff truly enjoyed his talents.

South African Magician

Each magic trick was more challenging than the one before. Players were impressed. They thought they had figured the magic trick out, but they could not catch him. He was too quick and a professional. Some of the magic tricks at the end would just shake your head.