Since the turn of the 21st century Portugal has been one of the strongest countries competing in international tournaments. European Championship winners 2016, runners-up 2004. Fourth place at World Cup 2006, as well as UEFA Nations League winners 2018-19.
But there was a time when they were regularly absent from the world stage. When qualification was beyond them.
Portuguese football seemed to be on the rise when Benfica won back-to-back European Cups in the early sixties. They were losing finalists on three other occasions during the decade too. This resulted in an upturn in performance for the national side.
They qualified for the 1966 World Cup in England and with players such as EusÃ©bio, JosÃ© Torres and JosÃ© Augusto, Coluna and SimÃµes, they performed admirably in finishing third.
This was the first time they had taken part in an international tournament.
But then, nothing.
They didnâ€™t reach another tournament until Euro â€™84 in France.
Fernando Cabrita had built an attractive squad, captained by goalkeeper Manuel Bento. It included the likes of Rui JordÃ£o, Nene, Carlos Manuel, Diamantino and Fernando Chalana.
After progressing through the group stage, at the expense of defending champions West Germany, they took part in a pulsating Semi-Final against the hosts. One of the games of any tournament, Portugal were 2-1 up eight minutes into extra time. But the French, inspired by Michel Platini, won it with virtually the last kick of the match.
Cabrita stepped down as boss and the Portuguese FA turned to JosÃ© Torres. Torres spent the large part of his playing career at Benfica. He won nine league titles there and was a runner-up in the European Cup three times
They were drawn alongside the West Germans again for qualification to Mexico â€™86. They won the battle for second place in the group, overcoming Sweden. But it took a famous 1-0 win when a Carlos Manuel goal beat the West Germans in Stuttgart. They turned up at the match knowing anything other than a win would see Sweden progress as their final match was against Malta. West Germany never lost qualification matches, especially at home.
But lose they did and Portugal were on their way to Mexico.
The draw for the tournament put them in Group F alongside England, Morocco and Poland. It looked a tough group. Poland had finished third in 1974 and 1982. England had gone through the 1982 World Cup unbeaten. Morocco were competing at their first World Cup since 1970, having qualified from CAF with Algeria.
Yet when Torres announced his squad there were more than one or two surprises. Firstly, he left out two Sporting Lisbon strikers. Rui JordÃ£o had been the star of Euro â€™84. Heâ€™d scored both goals in the Semi-Final against the French and was considered one of their most experienced players, despite nearing 34.
But heâ€™d hardly played during the season due to a quarrel with his manager.
Manuel Fernandes was already 34. He was top scorer in the Portuguese league in 1985-86 with 30 goals.
He went with Fernando Gomes, whose 20 goals helped Porto lift the title. He was also top scorer in qualification too. Rui Ãguas was also in the squad, although heâ€™d only managed to find the net 10 times during the season.
Still captained by Bento, now aged 37, they put much of their faith in 20-year old star Paulo Futre. Never had there been so many world class players at one tournament before, and Futre was Portugalâ€™s entry to this list.
But right from the time they were supposed to fly out things began to fall apart in a spectacular way.
Benficaâ€™s captain, AntÃ³nio Veloso, tested positive for an anabolic steroid. He protested his innocence but Torres dropped him from the squad. In his place he called up uncapped Fernando Bandeirinha of Academica. He was so surprised to be called up they had to wake him up in the early hours of the morning and rush him to the airport.
Even then he still missed the flight, only meeting up with the squad at their first stopover in Frankfurt.
Veloso explained in 2014 how convinced he was the result of his test was wrong.
â€œwe were about six players for control. I was sixth and my analysis appeared as number four. I knew it would come back negative. Those tests were definitely not mine. They didnâ€™t want me to go to another championship.â€
â€œI remember this episode of doping with a lot of heartache. Being accused of something we didnâ€™t do is the worst thing that can happen to us.â€
It was later proved Veloso had indeed tested negative but revealed far too late to change things back again.
Veloso remained in the official tournament photo despite never setting foot in the country.
Once the squad touched down in Mexico things didnâ€™t improve.
Rather than fly straight to Mexico City, the federation had decided to stopover in Frankfurt and Dallas, extending the flight for players desperate to get going.
The Portuguese FA (FPF) had chosen to base the squad in the north of the country in Saltillo, not far from Monterrey. For so many European nations the issue of how to tackle altitude loomed large. Of their three group matches only one of them would be at altitude, Guadalajara. The other two were in Monterrey and San Nicolas, about 10km apart.
It was possible the knockout games would be played at Mexico City and that was even higher than Guadalajara, so it was important to acclimatise.
Whilst the hotel facilities were perfectly fine, the squad soon discovered how little the FPF had considered the playing conditions available to them. The training pitch was in a poor state and poor location (up a steep hill). The warm-up matches were just against teams made up from restaurant and bar staff.
Chile offered to play a friendly but the FPF turned it down due to the proposed fee.
Not that FPF were there to answer to their decisions. Theyâ€™d based themselves over 1,000km away in Mexico City. Naturally this wasnâ€™t endearing them to the players.
Right from the time the team qualified there had been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction amongst the players. Sponsors had begun to get interested in the first tournament for 20 years and so the players were used for advertising and brand campaigns. But the players saw little of this cash.
The bonus structure the players were subject to was the lowest of all 24 participating nations
Knowing the FPF were being bankrolled by commerce wouldâ€™ve made the lack of suitable facilities particularly galling for the players. With â€˜the suitsâ€™ holing themselves up in the relative luxury of the capital city wouldnâ€™t have dampened emotions either.
Of course the players had made their feelings known on the money front before they flew out to Mexico. Silva Resende, FPF President, promised to sort it out once they arrived in the country. Now he wasnâ€™t answering their calls.
Tempers were beginning to simmer dangerously.
The squad had been in Mexico for a fortnight, with no one to play against and poor training facilities. Still a week before they were to kick-off things against England, the players decided to take matters into their own hands.
Bento held a press conference and announced that unless the bonuses were increased, as well as a share of the advertising revenue, the players were going on strike.
To appease the fans back home they said theyâ€™d continue to train, but would turn their shirts inside out to hide the sponsors name as they objected to the federation earning any more revenue if it wasnâ€™t being shared.
Ordinarily, the plight of the players should have garnered support amongst the public at home. However, the press had been reporting stories of playersâ€™ partying with local women. As many of the squad were married this didnâ€™t go down too well.
When they first arrived at the hotel there appeared to be some pretty strict security measures protecting the players. Gradually over time, they realised this was just a faÃ§ade and they were free to slope off to enjoy the local hospitality.
Cars would frequently pass by the hotel to pick up the players. The local female contingent had worked out these boys were here for a good time and determined to enjoy themselves.
Torres and his coaching staff appeared unable to stop it. Consequently, many of the wives in Portugal began making frantic phone calls.
This subject even made the Parliament. President MÃ¡rio Soares called on the players to show â€˜common senseâ€™ and calm down.
Years later Paulo Futre admitted;
â€œthere were some Mexican women who were passionate about some of my teammates. I donâ€™t know what happened between them, but they started receiving gold gifts of all kinds. Some were rich, very rich, and married.â€
Despite the playersâ€™ protests the federation continued to ignore them. Presumably, they believed the public were losing faith in the players due to their behaviour.
Finally, it was time for their opening game in Monterrey against England.
Torres went for a lone striker, Fernando Gomes, with Diamantino and Carlos Manuel as support from midfield. Futre was on the bench.
The game was a tight affair with few clear-cut chances. With 15 minutes to go Diamantino beat Sansom down the right. As the defenders came towards him they left Carlos Manuel free at the back post. Diamantino found his Benfica teammate who turned it into the empty net.
The players celebrated wildly as all the pent-up frustration was released. They won 1-0 against an England side who were considered the strongest in the group.
Futre said years later;
â€œwe won against the English in anger, but we didnâ€™t do it for Portugal, but against Silva Resende. We had won against the president of the federation, that was our war.â€
Rather than use the opportunity to get the public back on their side against the federation, the players decided they were fine to keep on partying.
Poland and Morocco played out a goalless draw and so Portugal were top of the group. This was a 24-team tournament, with six groups of four. The top two would go through automatically, along with the four best third placed teams. It gave a huge advantage to a side winning their first match. Or so everyone thought.
Four days later they were back in Monterrey to take on Poland. The day before, England and Morocco had also played out a turgid goalless draw, so a draw for Portugal in their second game would probably be enough to see them go through.
However, things werenâ€™t as simple as that.
In the build-up to the game Bento broke a leg in training. The captain and most experienced man in the squad was out of the tournament. 38-year old Sporting keeper, VÃtor Damas was his replacement.
The game was settled on 68 minutes when Smolarek stabbed the ball past Damas for the only goal of the game. Portugal had lost their advantage, but with the minnows of Morocco up next, a draw may well be enough.
Finally, Torres gave Futre his starting place.
But after just 19 minutes they found themselves a goal down. Jaime Pacheco gave the ball away just outside his own box and Abderrazak Khairi made him pay. Morocco had their first goal of the tournament and Portugal had just made their job harder.
Seven minutes later it had become much tougher. A ball into the box from the right evaded the defenders and Khairi volleyed it past Damas to make it 2-0.
Portugal began to search for a goal to get them back into things but just on the hour Krimau put the final nail in the coffin with the Africansâ€™ third. Diamantino did get one back but it was too little too late and Portugal were out.
With England beating Poland 3-0 in Monterrey, Portugal were rock bottom of the group and making arrangements to fly home.
Of course it didnâ€™t end there. It couldnâ€™t really, could it? This had engulfed the whole country. Theyâ€™d gone into the tournament on the back of their success in the Euros two years before, expecting to at least get into the knockout stage. Yet the players blamed the federation for their poor performance and the public blamed the playersâ€™ partying for it.
Finally, the players got to meet Resende. But not because he believed mediation was the correct thing to do. After being knocked out FIFA had taken away the car theyâ€™d given him to use, so he had no other means of getting around than use the same bus the players were on!
Futre gave his own insight;
â€œwe only saw him when we were eliminated by Morocco, in the third game, in Guadalajara. And we only saw him in Saltillo, where we still stayed three or four more days, because FIFA removed that car they had given him and â€˜forcedâ€™ him to travel on the bus with the players. Most of the players, if not all, ended up insulting him and it was chaos.â€
JosÃ© Torres quit as coach. Heâ€™d tried his best under immense pressure but couldnâ€™t leave completely blameless. Resende replaced him with Ruy Seabra and Juca. Seabra, had no previous coaching experience and he selected the squad while Juca provided the coaching. This was Jucaâ€™s third spell as coach of the national team.
Resende never forgot the treatment heâ€™d received from the players on the bus in Mexico.
Eight players were banned for life from the national team, including Carlos Manuel, Fernando Gomes, Diamantino, Jaime Pacheco, JoÃ£o Pinto and Paulo Futre.
The ban didnâ€™t last long. As Portugal struggled to qualify for Euro â€™88 they decided the players were still needed. The nadir was having to come from behind to grab a draw at home to â€˜mightyâ€™ Malta.
Gomes came back in and scored the winner in Sweden, but theyâ€™d left themselves far too much to do and had to watch the finals from home.
Diamantino never played for the national side again.
Seabra left in 1987 and Juca followed him two years later. Futre, Pinto, Gomes and Pacheco all returned to the team but Portugal wouldnâ€™t be seen at a major tournament until Euro â€™96. They didnâ€™t make it on the world stage until 2002 in Japan and South Korea. Although their performance out there bore some resemblance to Mexico 20 years earlier.
The incident was a stain on the country and their good name. It became a farce which nobody seemed able, or willing, to put a stop to. If only the two sides had met and settled their differences things might have been different.
But Morocco werenâ€™t complaining as they won the group and gave West Germany a decent game in the next round. It needed a goal from Lothar MatthÃ¤us two minutes from time to defeat them.
Spare a thought for poor old Fernando Bandeirinha, the lad hauled out of his bed in the early hours of the morning to get on the flight to Mexico. Presumably, he wasnâ€™t expecting to be near a call-up and one wonders how long into the trip did he wish he hadnâ€™t. We donâ€™t know whether he took part in the fun and frolics along with the other players, but he never played in the tournament and never represented Portugal at all during his career
On reflection, Futre believed the whole incident was what Portuguese football needed.
â€œone positive thing about that war was that it brought together the Benfica and Porto players, who sat on separate sides of the tables, on the bus they were one in front and the other behind, with one Boavista or Sporting in the middle.â€
Portugal qualified for every Euros from â€™96 onwards, finishing runners-up to Greece in 2004 and winning in 2016. They finished fourth at World Cup 2006 in Germany.
With 24-hour news these days you can just imagine the fuss around an incident of this sort now, let along what it was like back then.