Portugal squad feeling at home in South Africa

MAGALIESBURG, South Africa (AP) — Despite having traveled thousands of miles from home for the World Cup, Portugal's squad is finding southern Africa to be familiar territory.

About 500,000 Portuguese immigrants live in South Africa, and 30,000 fans turned out in Johannesburg on Tuesday to watch the team beat Mozambique 3-0 in its last warmup game. They've also shown up in large numbers for the squad's public appearances.

Coach Carlos Queiroz believes the local support could be a sizable advantage at Africa's first World Cup when Portugal opens its schedule at Africa's first World Cup against Ivory Coast on Tuesday at Port Elizabeth.

"It's going to be like playing at home," Queiroz said. "The Portuguese community's support will be massive."

Queiroz was born in what is now Mozambique, leaving the neighboring nation to South Africa when he was 22. He played as a goalkeeper for a local team in the southeast African country, which is one of five former Portuguese colonies on the continent.

Queiroz's 26-year coaching career across four continents includes a two-year spell as South Africa's coach, guiding the team to qualify for the 2002 World Cup but departing before the tournament.

He is still a regular visitor to the continent, saying "all my family has its roots shared between Portugal and Africa."

Looking ahead to the team's opening Group G match on Tuesday at Port Elizabeth, Queiroz says he is aware of Ivory Coast's strength and potential.

"Everyone reckons it could become the first African team to reach the semifinals of a World Cup," he said.

Brazil and North Korea are also in the group.

Eusebio, Portugal's 1960s soccer great who was nicknamed the Black Panther, was also from Mozambique and dozens of Africans currently play for top Portuguese clubs.

At the World Cup, Portugal central defender Rolando is a naturalized Portuguese who was born in Cape Verde.

Like France's national team, which also features players of African descent, Portugal is benefiting from the legacy of a one-time empire. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle in sub-Saharan Africa, in late 15th century, and they were the last to leave, in the mid 1970s.

Evidence of that heritage can be witnessed in Cape Town — venue for Portugal's match against North Korea — where there is a statue of Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, who was the first to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.

In Durban, where Portugal takes on Brazil, there is a bust of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal's best-known 20th-century poet who also wrote in English.