MAGALIESBURG, South Africa (AP) — Cracks are appearing for Portugal.
Amid the pressure cooker atmosphere of the World Cup, where players and coaching staff carry the burden of national expectations, discord has surfaces as Portugal prepares for a crucial Group G game against North Korea.
Portugal, ranked No. 3 in the world, came to South Africa with hopes of capturing its first trophy. But a 0-0 draw in its opener against Ivory Coast was roundly booed at home.
Before Tuesday's second group match in Cape Town, the on-field shortcomings are being worsened by off-field grievances and public spats.
Deco was the center of attention Thursday as the Portuguese scrambled to regroup. The midfielder grumbled to reporters after the Ivory Coast game about coach Carlos Queiroz's tactics and substitutions, saying they were "strange" and "not as good as they might have been."
Deco, a two-time Champions League winner with Barcelona and FC Porto and Europe's 2004 player of the year, has been a linchpin for Portugal since his 2003 debut. So his comments carried weight, even while reportedly rankling Queiroz.
It also resonated with commentators and fans who watched a Portugal team that for long periods looked disjointed, even disoriented, and lacked daring.
With team unity apparently fraying, Deco said on the Portuguese federation's website the following day that he expressed his opinions "in the heat of the moment" and had not intended to question Queiroz's leadership.
He asked to appear at Thursday's news conference to repeat his denial of friction with Queiroz.
"It wasn't the right thing to say," he said, adding he apologized to his teammates. "I never expected it to cause such a furor."
In the first 15 minutes of Thursday's training session Queiroz, with more than a dozen TV cameras trained on him, gathered his players in a semicircle for a chat.
The Deco spat was the latest controversy to distract Portugal.
Last week, Nani was ruled out of the World Cup before it started because of a bruised left collarbone. Returning home, the Manchester United winger chafed at being cut, telling reporters in Lisbon he would be fit within a week.
Central defender Ricardo Carvalho was the first to unintentionally rock the boat before the squad even arrived at its base camp north of Johannesburg. He said that Portugal's 2006 World Cup squad was the strongest he'd played in — a comment taken to mean his teammates in South Africa weren't as good.
Team and federation officials also have been disgruntled.
The Portuguese complained they were not consulted about an arm cast worn by Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba for the match. Queiroz said FIFA had shown double standards by disallowing jewelry on the pitch, but authorizing a rigid arm protection for "a star of African football."
And the federation was irked by a yellow card shown to Cristiano Ronaldo in that match. It asked FIFA to revoke the card, saying there was a "disparity" in the referee's criteria between the players of the two teams.