Portugal are making their fourth World League appearance at the 14th edition and this promising young team faces a tough challenge in the Intercontinental Round against reigning Word Champion Brazil, eight times World League winner Italy and Germany, the host country for the 2002 European Championship finals.
The challenge represents concentrated work for national coach, Cuban national Juan Diaz who was nominated by the FIVB as one of the ten best coaches of the 20th century. Diaz however has already worked intensively with this young team and his clear leadership has already reaped results with Portugal finishing a creditable eighth at the 2002 World Championship in Argentina.
"We are in a strong group, but we can only improve if we play high level and with the best teams," Diaz said philosophically.
Hi goal for this year is "to improve on last year's performance and to try to win one game against Brazil or Italy", especially at home, where Portugal will play it's matches in the magnificent hall of Matosinhos, in the charming city of Porto.
With this aim in mind, coach Juan Diaz has called up the same 12 players that went to Argentina, including the best blocker of World Championship João José and 18 year-old setter Nuno Pinheiro. However his 18-man selection also has some new stars.
"We want to add some new rising players to the experience of the team, which, I think, can surprise the world of volleyball," said Diaz, characteristically playing his cards close to the chest.
The next goal for the Portuguese team is very clear for the Cuban maestro Diaz.
"This is four years work where we are building a solid team and that has two main goals: the first was already achieved in Argentina when we passed to the quarter finals, and the second is the qualification for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens".
An impossible mission, Diaz is asked ahead of this year's World League?
"No," he replies, "but this can only be done through a very hard work and the participation in events of high quality like the FIVB World League".
Reporting by Barbedo Magalhães, Portugal.
18 man squad (plus shirt name)
Roberto Reis (Roberto),
Carlos Teixeira (Teixeira),
Joao Malveiro (Malveiro),
Fabio Milhazes (Fabio),
Manuel Silva (M.Silva),
Pedro Fiuza (Fiuza),
Hugo Gasper (H. Gasper),
Adriano Paço (A.Paço),
Nuno Rocha (Nuno),
Ubirajara Pereira (Bira),
Joao Jose (J.Jose),
Andre Lopes (Andre),
Flavio Cruz (Flavio),
Jorge Alves (J.Alves),
Alexandre Castro (Alexandro),
Hugo Ribeiro (H.Ribeiro),
Eurico Peixoto (Eurico).