“Before this match against the United States (16-16), did you think that a draw could be enough to qualify you for the 2023 World Cup?
I knew the rules, and during the previous game against Kenya (85-0), I kept asking players to try to score more points. I wanted us to score more than 80. But it can’t be a goal to play for a draw, you can’t prepare for that! You just have to think about winning every game.
What were you thinking when Samuel Marques took his momentum to kick the penalty which, after the siren, gave you the draw?
You know I’m quite old (60 years) and experienced to know that sometimes even the best goalscorer can miss a kick. I was just thinking, ‘Please, Samuel, do it!’
In recent months, you have worked a lot on end-of-match scenarios in training. Did you think that hard work was paying off when you regained possession two minutes from time, 5 yards from your own line?
No. Above all, we tell ourselves that we are still in the game and that we still have a chance. It is true, this work we have done. But when I saw the players attacking first hand and succeeding in investing the opposing camp, I said to myself that they were in it and had the ability to transcend themselves in crucial moments. So maybe that helped, but there are things that come under the players’ abilities and not necessarily the work of the staff, you have to be humble in those cases.
It was a tense game, but you managed to score a good try early in the game…
We scored a good try, but the performance of the forwards was very good. Apart from a flutter on the sidelines, which cost us dearly and brought the United States back into the game, I am very proud of the scrum, of the defense on the mauls. Our three-quarters have the ability to score tries, even that last attack that we launch to go play in the United States’ camp and get the decisive penalty, it’s first-hand play, our ability to have timing, good passes. It’s a delight ! Tonight it was not easy because the ball was very slippery. We showed that we can compete in the scrum, and I’m happy with our defense. This team can still improve a lot.
When you took over the Portuguese selection in 2019, did you hope to qualify for the World Cup in France?
We have been working for this objective since the beginning. The tour in Brazil and Chile in 2019 was very important for us. We went there with a lot of young players, most of whom were playing World Cup B in Brazil just two months before. I wanted to know if players could train like professionals. And they showed the staff that they were able to digest these weeks and progress. So, at the end of the tour, I told them that now, when they come with the national team, they will be asked to exert themselves, to train like during this period, because it was the only way to to be competitive and to ensure that players coming from France feel concerned. Most of them have accepted these rules and that’s why we can celebrate this qualification now. »