Supporter thrilled by transfer of a lifetime

Luis Cirne thought he would watch Portugal compete in the World Cup from his couch in Dubai - until a surprise transfer to Johannesburg.

Portugal football fans Joao Cirne, Ernesto Barao and Luis Cirne at their home in Dubai.
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Until a week ago Luis Cirne thought he would watch Portugal compete in the World Cup from his couch in Dubai. Then his boss at his management consulting firm told him he was being transferred for a few months - to Johannesburg, South Africa. "It was perfect timing," says Mr Cirne, 34, who leaves on Sunday. "I had shelled out Dh300 with du to access the extra World Cup channel, but now I am going to ask for a refund."

He raced online this week to Fifa.com to purchase tickets to three matches - Denmark v Netherlands, Ghana v Germany and Spain v Honduras, all in Johannesburg. They will be the first World Cup matches he has seen live. But the match he is desperate to get tickets to is in Durban, five hours away. "I am especially excited about the Portugal versus Brazil match, which I would very, very much like to watch," he says. "It will be difficult though, because it is a working day."

Mr Cirne says it may also be difficult for the national team to advance from the group stages. Portugal, ranked third in the world by Fifa, the sport's governing body, are not playing as a team at the moment, he says. He adds that the team are too dependent on the winger Cristiano Ronaldo - the 2008 Fifa World Player of the year - especially with another winger, Manchester United's Nani, ruled out with an injured collarbone.

"I think if we make it past the group level, I think we are lucky," he says. "I think if we lose the first match then it is all over for us. If we draw that match then it is going to be tremendous pressure for the other two." Mr Cirne's older brother, Joao, who will be watching from Dubai with his friend Ernesto Barao, is also putting an emphasis on the first match. "Not so good," says Joao Cirne, 38, who works for the telecommunications consultant Neoris. "I think it is difficult.

"If we beat Ivory Coast, I think we will go through. If we lose to Ivory Coast, then even if we beat North Korea, we have to play Brazil so it is going to be very difficult." Mr Cirne was in Portugal for the 2004 European Championship when the hosts beat Spain 1-0 in the group stages. He and Mr Barao, 37, who also works for Neoris, still carry the disappointment of Portugal reaching the final only to lose 1-0 to Greece.

That was the best chance for a trophy for the so-called Golden Generation of players, made up of the youth national team who won consecutive Fifa Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991 - including midfielder Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto. "We missed the greatest opportunity when it was our Euro Cup with Greece," says Mr Barao. "Now it is going to take some time. Like with France, with a generation of players, it is going to take some time before we can be winning.

"To get to the quarter-finals it will be an excellent but the confidence is not as high as in previous years." "That was the biggest possible disappointment that we could have," adds Mr Cirne. "To get to the final and to lose was really, really bad." Portugal, making their fifth appearance in a World Cup, scraped into this World Cup by defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina in a two-legged play-off. They have been drawn in what is widely considered to be the toughest group of the tournament but perhaps the most intriguing of their matches will be against the North Koreans.

It took four goals by Eusebio in 1966 to overcome a 3-0 deficit against the North Koreans, who were surprise entrants in the quarter-finals, but Mr Cirne is not expecting it to be that difficult this time around. "I am not expecting us to be losing 3-0 to North Korea, but I have no idea as to how they qualified," he says. "It will be nice because we played them in 1966 and now we play again." @Email:mchung@thenational.ae