DONETSK, Ukraine: A tenacious, tough-tackling defensive midfielder during his playing career, Paulo Bento has brought the same fighting qualities to his job as manager of Portugal.
The Seleccao face Iberian rivals Spain in the Euro 2012 semi-finals today, when victory would take them into the final of a major tournament for only the second time in the country’s history.
With Cristiano Ronaldo finally on song at an international competition, hopes of an upset against the world and European champions are high, but Bento is not the kind of man to get carried away.
At 43, he may be the youngest coach at the tournament, but his steely press conference demeanour gives him the air of a far more seasoned campaigner.
For Bento, the collective is all-important, and for all the attention that Ronaldo’s displays have inevitably generated, he remains steadfast in his refusal to discuss individual players.
“I don’t like talking about individuals after a match,” he told journalists bluntly after Portugal’s 3-2 defeat of Denmark in the group phase.
“I always analyse the team performance as a whole.”
Even after Ronaldo’s match-winning displays against the Netherlands and in the quarter-final defeat of the Czech Republic, Bento has refrained from praising his captain.
Fight, strategy, spirit and organisation are his buzzwords. The notion of personal glory appears to leave him cold.
Bento succeeded Carlos Queiroz as national coach in September 2010 after domestic success with his former club Sporting Lisbon. He is not afraid to ruffle feathers, notably forcing Ricardo Carvalho into international isolation, but benefits from the status afforded him by a 35-cap career with the national team. “He knows perfectly what a player thinks in a competition,” centre-back Pepe told the Uefa website earlier this year.
An industrious player with Estrela Amadora, Vitoria Guimaraes, Benfica and Sporting, Bento spent four years with Spanish side Oviedo between 1996 and 2000, and may therefore have extra motivation to prevail on Wednesday.
Spain might be on the brink of an unprecedented treble of consecutive international honours, but Bento saw his side prevail 4-0 when the teams last met, in a memorable friendly in Lisbon in November 2010.
His team has changed little since then and continuity has been an obvious theme at the current tournament, with the same 11 players lining up at kick-off for all of Portugal’s four games to date. An injury to striker Helder Postiga means Bento will have to make a change against Spain, but he continues to speak with the assurance of a man confident that his players know exactly what is expected of them. “We’re through, we worked really hard to get here, and now we must try to recover as much as possible and then we’ll try to take to the field in the best conditions,” he said after Ronaldo’s header eliminated the Czechs.