Scolari and Figo clash over player selection

LISBON: Portugal coach Luiz Filipe Scolari has clashed publicly with superstar Luis Figo over a call-up for a recently naturalised Brazilian-born player on the national squad for the Euro 2004 Championship. 

The controversy, which Brazilian legend Pele also waded into Friday, began Tuesday when Figo told a Portuguese sports daily he was against selecting naturalised players. 

“National anthems can be learned but they are not felt,” the Real Madrid midfielder told O Jogo, adding he feels the use of foreign-born players hinders the development of national talent. 

“If you are patriotic, you would only think to play for your nation's team,” he added after learning FC Porto's Brazilian-born playmaker Anderson Luis de Souza, nicknamed “Deco”, acquired Portuguese citizenship. 

Scolari, who guided his native Brazil to victory in last year's World Cup and is prepared to select Deco for the Portuguese, hit back at Figo on Thursday, telling reporters that any player who disagrees with his selections has the option not to play for the squad. 

“I'm the one in charge of picking the national team, not the players,” he said. 

“I don't give in to pressure from anyone,” he added. 

The row dominated the headlines of Portugal's sports dailies on Friday, and prompted some newspapers to speculate Figo may even opt to quit the squad if Deco is handed a place. 

Top-selling Record ran a photo of Scolari with his back turned to Figo on its front page to highlight the dispute. 

Pele then had his say, telling private radio TSF that “if he (Deco) is technically solid and has become a naturalised citizen because he loves Portugal, why shouldn't he play?” 

Deco, who has lived in Portugal since 1997, is now ironically in line for his debut in a March 29 friendly in Porto ... against Brazil. – AFP 

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