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Scolari relives his Libertadores days

Written by: Staff
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MARIENFELD, Germany, July 4: Red cards, accusations of foul play and gamesmanship, dramatic penalty shootout wins and victories against technically superior teams.

Portugal's progress to the World Cup semi-finals, equalling their previous best performance of 1966, bears a startling resemblance to the campaigns of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's teams in Libertadores Cup.

Scolari came to prominence in his native Brazil by winning South America's equivalent of the Champions League with two different clubs -- Gremio in 1995 and Palmeiras four years later.

In contrast to the World Cup, where every detail is televised and scrutinised by soccer's world governing body FIFA, almost anything goes in the Libertadores.

Scolari's Gremio were notorious for rough-arm tactics. On one occasion, the players were accused by their opponents of encouraging riot police to hit them after a brawl broke out on the field.

Scolari was known to encourage ball boys to throw spare balls on to the field to disrupt opposition attacks, especially when time was running out.

But he installed a remarkable self-belief and determination in his players.

Significantly, none of Scolari's Gremio side, with the exception of striker Mario Jardel, went on to enjoy the same success elsewhere once they had parted company.

''Big Phil'', as Scolari is often known, had a more gifted Palmeiras team at his disposal in 1999 but it was still a rollercoaster ride.

They needed a penalty shootout to beat arch-rivals Corinthians in the 1999 quarter-finals and Colombia's Deportivo Cali in the final.

Scolari curbed his wilder excesses as he led his native Brazil to World Cup victory in 2002 and then took Portugal to the European Championship final on home soil in 2004.

But he remains a larger-than-life figure on the touchline, as he prowls his technical area like a caged tiger and rants constantly at his players.

Portugal's 2006 campaign bears all the hallmarks of the vintage Big Phil.

Few people gave them much hope of progressing beyond the second round yet they have battled to the last four.

Their notorious second round match against Netherlands produced a World Cup record four red cards, six minutes of injury-time and mutual accusations of unsporting behaviour.

One incident, in particular, had the appearance of a Scolari trick.

Portugal's coach first indicated that he wanted to bring off Luis Figo but, just as his captain trudged to the touchline, Scoalri instructed the assistant referee to take down the board, wasting precious seconds.

Shortly afterwards, Figo was substituted.

Success over the Dutch was followed by a quarter-final against England when Scolari's team held out for a goalless draw despite missing suspended playmaker Deco and Costinha, the man who protects the defence.

There were also accusations that Portugal's players had encouraged the referee to send off forward Wayne Rooney as he received a red card in the second half.

But Scolari, who has an uncanny knack of managing to stay within the limits whether they be the looser ones of the Libertadores or the much stricter rules laid down by FIFA, does not care.

''The spirit in this team is a warrior spirit,'' said the coach, who has shocked the Portuguese media by using a Brazilian term for the knockout stages which translates as kill or be killed.

''That is what was missing in Portuguese football.''

REUTERS

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