Portugal are out of the Women’s Euro 2017 after losing 2-1 to Group D winners England yesterday.
A draw would have been enough to reach the quarter-finals in Portugal’s debut appearance at a major tournament, and hopes were high when Carolina Mendes equalised after England’s early opener, but Nikita Parris scored what proved to be the winner for the English in the 48th minute.
After the match, Portugal coach Francisco Neto spoke of his pride in the team, saying they did not deserve to be knocked out of the competition and insisting that the Seleção would learn from the experience and come back a stronger side.
When Portugal clinched qualification for WEURO2017 in October last year it was seen as a historic achievement, and not too much was expected from the tournament finals, held in the Netherlands.
However, the Seleção did more than just make up the numbers. After a nervy opening match defeat to Spain, Portugal beat Scotland 2-1 and put up a good fight against a well-fancied England side, who had finished third at the last women’s World Cup, in Canada in 2015.
Despite the disappointment at missing out on the knockout stages, coach Neto made a point of uniting the whole squad on the pitch after the final whistle to give a rousing speech that was picked up by the media microphones.
Give or take a few expletives, his words can be translated as follows: “We didn’t deserve this! We’re a much better team now. We’ll be back much stronger, nobody forget that! I’m very proud of all of you, those who played and those who didn’t play. This is what being a team is all about. I want you all to hold your head up high!”
So is this a one-off accomplishment, or is women’s football enjoying sustainable growth in Portugal? Mariana Cabral is an expert on the subject as an ex player, reputed journalist and successful coach. PortuGOAL asked her for her thoughts on the Seleção’s tournament and the women’s game in Portugal.
PortuGOAL: Euro 2017 was Portugal’s first appearance at a major tournament. Is it fair to say expectations were exceeded?
Mariana Cabral: Expectations at the start of the competition were obviously low, because it was a debut and because the Seleção was the team with the lowest ranking in the tournament. The players were asked above all to give it everything and to leave a good impression of Portuguese women’s football in Europe, and I believe that goal was fully achieved. The first game didn’t go well, but adjustments were made and big improvements were seen in the next games, proving that there is quality in Portugal, provided we show courage allied to good organisation, because from the technical point of view our players are unique.
PortuGOAL: What’s behind the big improvement in women’s football in Portugal?
Mariana Cabral: Women’s football is growing more and more, year on year, thanks to many people who are working in it more as a labour of love than for any other reason. It began to develop more when Fernando Gomes became FPF president and he promised – and kept his promise – to invest in promoting women’s football, both in terms of making it more competitive and in terms of marketing, which is also a very important aspect to attract new players.
What’s essential right now is to increase the number of girls and women playing the game, as the numbers are still very low compared to other countries, and to give a more competitive environment to our young talented players. The fact a new league has been created was also very important, because Sporting and Braga have provided fantastic working facilities for the players, paving the way for female professional players in Portugal, which was unprecedented. As such, the good Portuguese footballers remain in Portugal, the competitive level goes up, and everybody improves.
PortuGOAL: Is it realistic to think that in the next 5-10 years Portugal’s women’s team can go far at a European Championship or a World Cup, reaching a semi-final or a final, for instance?
Mariana Cabral: I have no doubt that Portugal will be European Champions in the women’s game as well. Obviously not in the short term, but it is without doubt realistic to set this goal for the long term, because Portuguese players are very high quality – the difference in the technical quality between the Portuguese and the Scots, and even some of the English players, is remarkable to see. Portuguese women’s football is growing fast and our path will for sure lead us to become amongst the best, just like Portugal’s men’s team.
Our thanks to Mariana Cabral. Follow Mariana on Twitter @aminhabola.
You heard it here first. Portugal’s men’s team has given plenty of joy to the country’s football fans in recent years, and by the looks of it, the women’s team are on their way to following in the footsteps of their male colleagues. Watch this space.
by Tom Kundert