WORLD CUP: Figo gets last chance for glory

Lisbon, May 16:

Lodged in the 15 years of memories as an international soccer star, Luis Figo has had two moments of heartbreak. In 2002, Portugal was drawn into an easy group, and the country’s “golden generation” of top players seemed poised to fulfill its promise by advancing deep into the competition. But shocking defeats to the US and South Korea sent the Portuguese spiraling out of the tournament in the first round.

Two years later, Portugal was playing at home in the European Championship. It rode a wave of national euphoria all the way to the final, only to lose against Greece. “I didn’t just lose a final in the space of 90 minutes. I lost an entire career with my country’s team,” Figo said.

The World Cup in Germany offers the 33-year-old midfielder a last chance to lay his ghosts to rest. But the hard knocks have taught him to temper his expectations, even though Portugal is ranked among the world’s top 10 teams.“Only those who’ve played in a World Cup before know how difficult it is. Talk is easy. Anyone can say we’re going to do this or that. Actually doing it is something else,” Figo said.

Whatever the outcome of the June 9-July 9 tournament, Figo’s place as one of Portugal’s all-time greats, alongside 1960s soccer icon Eusebio, is assured.

Since his debut for the senior team in October 1992, Figo has a national record of 118 appearances, with 31 goals. For Portugal’s Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Figo is the natural choice for team captain. “He’s one of our mainstays, not only because of how he plays, but also because of what he represents and the way he worries opponents,” Scolari said. “Off the field he offers his experience to the others and helps ease younger players into the side.” Now, Figo hopes, comes the final step: success in Germany.