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U.S. NOTES

Portugal Coach Sounds Like Loser

June 06, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUWON, South Korea — Portugal Coach Antonio Oliveira said he didn't want to make any excuses, but excuses are certainly what he was offering after his side's unexpected defeat.

"We were aware of the problems that the U.S. team would present," he said. "They played very strongly as we expected. We had a lot of problems during the match to try to impose our game [on them]. Probably we missed some luck along the way, but that is not an excuse.

"They had a lot of time to prepare for this World Cup, which we didn't. The Portuguese players were involved with European leagues until a very short time ago. We only had two weeks of preparation. This is not an excuse; this is a fact."

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While Portuguese media bemoaned the loss by a team that had reached the semifinals of the European Championship in 2000 and was expected to go far in the World Cup, Oliveira tried to preach calm.

"Nothing is lost," he said in an interview with Portuguese state television RTP. "It is merely more distant."

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Portugal star Luis Figo put the blame squarely on his own team.

"We have to recognize that we made some mistakes that we normally don't make," he said. "We lost because of these mistakes. Give credit to the United States team, but these mistakes cannot happen in a Cup competition like this."

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All 14 U.S. players who took part in the match deserved credit for the victory, none more so than DaMarcus Beasley, who tormented Portugal on offense with his speed on the left flank and also got back time and again to help on defense.

"They have a lot of great attacking players and it was hard," he said. "They're a lot to handle, but I thought our defense played well and we did fine.

"Doing this at such a young age, it feels great. I feel that I'm a part of something big. We've finally got over the hump. We're closing that gap between the U.S. and Europe."

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Landon Donovan, who along with Beasley (they're both 20) led the U.S. team that finished fourth in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship in New Zealand in 1999, showed a wisdom beyond his years afterward.

"We have to remember that it's just the first game," he said. "Everyone's excited, but we don't want to take it for more than it is."

Donovan bristled at the idea that the Americans had come into the game not believing they could win.

"You saw the Senegal game," he said, referring to the 1-0 win over world champion France. "Why can't we beat a Portugal? We've played a lot of games this year and played a lot of good teams pretty tough.... Once we get on the field, they're just like you and me."

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A groin injury suffered in the match probably will keep U.S. winger Earnie Stewart out of the next game, against South Korea on Monday.

Meanwhile, forward Clint Mathis said it was a hamstring problem, not a left knee injury as U.S. team officials had said, that kept him from playing. Mathis said he has recovered completely and is available to play against South Korea.

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