The former Portuguese international also discussed his love for Argentina and Maradona.
Fernando Meira was a key part of the Portugal squad that had a dream run in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Meira was a defender during his playing days but was capable enough to contribute as a defensive midfielder. Fernando’s illustrious career saw his play 173 games in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart. During his time at Stuttgart, he guided them to a memorable title win. Apart from his contribution to the German side, he also played for Benfica, Galatasaray, Zenit & Real Zaragoza.
In an exclusive interview with Khel Now (available on the Khel TV youtube channel), the Portuguese defender described his journey in the 2006 World Cup.
Reminiscing the 2006 FIFA World Cup
Reflecting on his and Portugal’s journey in the FIFA World Cup 2006, Fernando Meira said that the experience is something he would carry all his life. And that even though they couldn’t win the tournament, it holds a special place for him. The former defender exclaimed, ”I had the opportunity to play in 2006 in Germany, we lost in the semi-final against France but it was a fantastic experience and this is I mean, I will always be carrying this experience for all my life.”
“Many players don’t even have the possibility to participate in a World Cup. If we see now for example Haaland the striker from City not being in the World Cup final. It is not normal, I mean it’s a big disappointment for him as a football player. I think many players when you play in a big club, always want to play in the Champions League, but when you play in the national team you always have the will, the dream to play in a World Cup,” Meira continued.
Love for Argentina and Maradona
While talking about his childhood heroes, the 44-year-old revealed that he was a big Argentina fan. He talked about his love for Maradona and the Argentina squad back then.
“As a child, it was Argentina you talk about Maradona. I was a big fan of Fernando Redondo, the number six from Argentina. This great generation with (Gabriel) Batistuta, Maradona, Redondo, and Fernando Cáceres. They had a fantastic squad and I was a big fan of Argentina. I was following Argentina all the time. A big fan of Maradona, I mean who could not love the way that Maradona was playing with the ball, it was his warm-up. And watching a World Cup is always fantastic for us,” the former Stuttgart defender quipped.
What does it take to feature in a World Cup?
The former Portugal defender also talked about how the game has evolved in the modern day. He talked about the difference in the style of play. According to the former Stuttgart skipper, the players in the modern day and much quicker. He highlighted the importance of pace and how technical squads (support staff) are now bigger. The 44-year-old also talked about what Arsene Wenger looked for in a player when he signed them for Arsenal.
Fernando Meira explained, “In my time, football was harder. You know, now football is about playing faster. I think all the football players are really fast. As a player, I was fast as well but now the majority of the players have the speed. They have great skill as a fast player and I remember one of these days, I see an interview of Arsène Wenger. The main thing that you always scout in a player is speed. All the players that he was scouting for Arsenal, all the players must have speed.
“Now you see that the speed in the game is really high, the intensity of the game is much higher than in my time. Because now running in football is like a huge enterprise not only in the marking but also in everyday the way that they prepare themselves in the train themselves,” he added.
The Batch of 2006
Fernando Meira was full of praise for the Portuguese squad of 2006 which went to the semi-finals. He talked about the spirit of the group and what advantage they had as a group.
“We had one huge advantage, our group was really connected and as you know football is not only about passion, about love but it’s also a collective sport. So, when you play a collective sport and you must work as a team, you must fight as a team. We had a fantastic dressing room, a fantastic family.”
The former Portuguese national continued, ”Of course, we also have the quality which is also very important but that’s why we could give such fantastic performances and good results. We had a fantastic squad with Deco, Pauleta, Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho, myself & Maniche. I mean fantastic players, a good squad, experienced ones. A little mix between experience and also young players.”
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Portugal vs England, Quarter-Final 2006
Fernando Meira also talked about the highly debated quarter-final against England where Ronaldo convinced the referee to get Rooney sent off. A match that went on to penalties and Portugal eventually ended up winning the game.
“Of course, Ronaldo wanted to win that match more than anything to show that he has the quality to beat England. England, they had a fantastic squad but we were so confident, we were so focused in our game, in our small details, in our small battles.”
“With Rooney, with Peter Crouch, with Beckham with Carragher. I mean they had a fantastic squad but Portugal as I told you, we were really really connected, we were a really strong team. Not only in the quality of our players but most of all as a family. As a football squad, we were really united and that’s why we were a success in 2006.”
The former Portugues centre-back who played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the national team talked about his growth through the ranks. Meira highlighted a few things about a young Cristiano and how talented he was in his young days.
“I started to play with Cristiano Ronaldo when he was 17 years old. When he arrived at the national team I was already there. I received him, I could see the talent that he had. I mean everyone in Portugal could see the talent of Cristiano Ronaldo. But most of all, his mentality. He is very competitive, he wants to win everything. He wants to be faster than you, stronger than you, and score more goals than you. I mean he’s very competitive and that’s why he became such a fantastic player. He was already a fantastic player at 17 years old. But everyone back there in 2006, we could see that Cristiano Ronaldo was ready to be the best player ever in Portugal, one of the best players ever in the world.”
Trust in Ronaldo
Like many Portuguese fans of the game, Fernando Meira is a Ronaldo fan. And as a former teammate, the former Portuguese national knows a thing or two about the superstar.
Speaking on the trust the Portuguese have in the now 37-year-old forward, Meira said, “He (Ronaldo) was ready to be the number one, he was already the number one for us so that’s why we put so much confidence, so much pressure as well on Cristiano Ronaldo. He was ready for it, he was the best one, and he could make a difference for us. So why not let him decide the game? So he was feeling confident as well.
“Ronaldo is always the first one to come to training and is the last one to abandon the training. Those small details at the end of the day with his quality make him one of the greatest players ever in the entire world. Ronaldo is unique, he’s a fantastic player and I mean at 21 years old he was already for us one of the best but at 22, 23, and 24 he was improving even more in his skills, his performances, and his goals.
“He was a winger but he was scoring so many goals, he plays so many games as a number nine at the end of his career. Just like he’s playing now as a number nine and he’s scoring goals like no one else. He is unbelievable,” the 44-year-old finished.
Meira on Ronaldo’s interview with Piers Morgan
Cristiano Ronaldo has been the talk of the town post his shocking interview with Piers Morgan before heading to the FIFA World Cup 2022. Ronaldo revealed a lot about his days at Manchester United and even criticized the coach for not respecting him.
The interview led to Ronaldo and Manchester United terminating their contract with mutual agreement. Meira said that the interview will have no impact on Ronaldo. He added that Ronaldo feeds off the pressure and the criticism that followed the interview.
Reflecting on the issue, the former teammate of Ronaldo explained, “This is Cristiano Ronaldo. You know in the past two weeks after the interview everyone was talking about Ronaldo. Everyone is putting pressure on Cristiano Ronaldo because simply he’s the best and he wants this kind of attention for himself. He wants everyone to talk about him. Because he knows that if everyone is talking about him, if everyone or some players, some people, some journalists they are speaking badly about him, this is better for him.”
Fernando Meira even went on to hint that Ronaldo thrives on the criticism he faces. He quipped, “That’s his pedigree, that’s the way that he feeds himself with this kind of people who talk so badly about him, about one of the best players ever in the world. They still can criticize him, I mean of course all of us, we all have some defects, we all make mistakes, and we all sometimes say some things that we don’t want to say. Things we regret ourselves. But, especially Ronaldo, wanted exactly to do this to call attention to himself, to have more pressure to feed himself with. With this, he will be willing to prove to everyone that he is still one of the best ever and I am 100% sure that Portugal will make a fantastic World Cup in 2022.”