|21 June 2005|
Portugal have dreams of making it to EuroBasket 2005 but if Monday night's game against England is any indication they will need some improvement.
Valentyn Melnychuk's men showed a tremendous fighting spirit to win 82-80, but the fact that they trailed a team a team like England, who did not play in EuroBasket qualifying action the past two years, by as many as 19 points in the third quarter will have given the coach plenty of concern.
Portugal must finish top of Group C above Hungary and Sweden in the additional qualifying tournament later this summer, and then beat the other group winners in the second phase to take the final qualifying place for EuroBasket which will be staged in Serbia & Montenegro.
In the first of three friendlies between the two sides that was staged in Boavista, England made an assured start with Germayne Forbes and Julius Joseph each hitting a pair of three-pointers to help set up a 20-17 advantage at the end of the first 10 minutes.
The visitors capitalised on that after the break, holding Portugal scoreless for five minutes while scoring 13 points of their own, with Andrew Bridge and veteran Delme Herriman both connecting from long-range.
Portugal staged a rally after England had established a 38-19 lead and the away side's struggles against a full-court press allowed their hosts some cheap baskets, with Paulo Cunha and Jorge Coelho, who had not expected to be available for the game, the main beneficiaries.
Portugal closed the half with a 13-2 run to trail just 40-32 at half-time.
In the third quarter, Joseph had seven points in a 13-4 England run that established a 57-38 lead before Portugal began their comeback.
Big man Francisco Jordao, nicknamed 'the moustache boy', hit three three-pointers for his team in a 28-6 charge that left England trailing for the first time since the first quarter.
The game was not decided until the very end.
Trailing 76-70 with 1:44 remaining, England had baskets from Bridge and Robert Reed and a three-pointer from Bridge to leave them just one behind with only 18 seconds remaining.
Reed then split two free throws with 12 seconds on the clock to tie the game, but Filipe Da Silva's basket with 2.7 seconds left put the home side back in front.
Forbes did manage to launch a desperation shot from half-court that would have given England the win had it gone in, but the ball clanged agonisingly back off the rim.
Jordao led the hosts' scoring with 18 points while Joseph finished with 23 points and Forbes added 19 for an England.
Financial problems with its governing body led to England withdrawing from the European Championships but they are under new guidance and with Pete Scantlebury at the helm and some impressive young talent, a strong England in the future does not appear to be a pipe dream.
Bridge, playing only his fifth game for England, finished with 15 points.