World Cup Frustration
Portugal qualified for the World Cup in 2002, having advanced past the preliminaries for the first time in 16 years. The Portuguese were considered a serious contender, despite having to play the early round in Group D with host nation South Korea. The United States and Poland, each considered decided underdogs, were also in the group.
"Take a poll of the United States players and ask them which single player they are most worried about facing in the World Cup and the answer is unanimous: Luis Figo," said Los Angeles Times writers Mike Penner and Grahame Jones. "As reigning FIFA world player of the year and soccer's second-most expensive player of all time behind Zindedine Zidane, Figo is to Portugal what Zidane is to France. In a word, indispensable. If anyone can lead the Portuguese to the world championship they so desperately desire, it's the 29-year-old millionaire from a working-class suburb of Lisbon." Figo had helped real Madrid win the European Champions Cup in May, 2002.
Portugal, however, ran into a roadblock in its opening game when the U.S. bolted to a stunning 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 upset win. The Americans, wrote the Associated Press, "held under intense pressure from Portugal in the final 10 minutes of the first half and the first 40 minutes of the second, withstanding Luis Figo, the world's top player, and his talented teammates. The result was among the five greatest wins in U.S. soccer history." By contrast, the AP added, "the Portuguese looked as if they were playing with the weight of their shoulders." Portugal never recovered from the loss. It defeated Poland 4-0 but lost to South Korea 1-0 and went home.