Friday, July 2, 2010

Portugal's World Cup Ride Comes to an End

On Tuesday, June 29, Portugal was defeated by Spain 1-0, ending an exciting three week World Cup journey. Portugal was in Group G, "The Group of Death", which included Ivory Coast, North Korea and Brazil. Throughout the last week, Portugal played against the number one team in the world, Brazil and the number two team in the world, Spain.

I believe our players represented Portugal with dignity, honor and pride. Although we are sad and disappointed and certainly not satisfied to have to leave South Africa at this stage of the competition, we do come home with our heads held high.

It was an absolute fantastic experience. I want to share my gratitude for all your kind comments and support throughout my world cup experience. I never say good-bye, instead see you soon my friends.

Now, I am anxious to return to the US and see my family and friends and to share my unique experiences as an American born coach participating in the 2010 South Africa World Cup with the Portugal National Team. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a professional coach as well as have the opportunity to make contributions at the highest levels.

Should you have any questions or comments, I can be reached by the following contacts; or on Facebook, Dan Gaspar or by phone, 1-860-805-4392.

Continue to Live the World Cup,
Dan Gaspar

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Phase Two: The Knockout Stage - Portugal vs. Spain

When you start the journey that is the World Cup, there's always a sense of anxiety.

You try to focus on the two segments of the tournament: there's the qualification aspect, which Team Portugal has already achieved, and then there's the knockout phase, which requires a winning mentality. The loser goes home and the winner stays. We've reached the knockout stage and we don't want to go home.

As Team Portugal prepares for the match against Spain, we're in a good space and a good frame of mind. The game plan is on track. We haven't conceded a goal at the World Cup and if we can maintain that discipline and sense of structure, we're always in a position to compete.

I think our game against Spain is going to be a lot like a boxing match. Each opponent is going to take a few punches here and there to see how the other team adjusts and reacts. That will determine the rhythm of the match and I think that will be extremely important. These are two teams with skillful players who will try to assess the opposition. The teams who are able to identify and expose areas of weakness and capitalize on their opponent's mistakes generally are the teams that come out on top.

It's only natural that the history between these two nations gives the match a bit more significance. After all, we are neighbors'. It's also kind of ironic that the two counties have combined efforts to bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and now we're in opposing positions where one of us will go home.

Entering the knockout phase, there has been a greater emphasis on penalty kicks in training. We divide the players into three teams with each player taking three penalty kicks, rotating at three different goals. I've taken the opportunity to share my philosophy on defending penalty kicks with Portugal's three goalkeepers. Ultimately, it's their style and personality that should dictate how they react to a shooter.

There are a number of things a goalkeeper can look for as the opposing player prepares to shoot. Essentially, it's psychological warfare between the shooter and goalkeeper. When penalty kickers train, they try to master a routine: they get a bag of balls, put them down, place one ball down in a particular way with the valve facing a certain way, they take so many steps in their approach. What a goalkeeper can try to do is interrupt that routine and there are various ways to do that: taking their time to set up, walking up to the ball, moving on the line, switching to a second pair of gloves.

Then, you get into the technical aspects by looking at the approach the shooter takes. If it's a normal approach to the ball, then in most cases it's a normal swing from the player. For example, if a right-footed shooter stands to the left of the ball, then the natural swing would be the right foot kicking to the right of the goalkeeper. If there's some sort of deception used, like a long run to the ball or a short arching one, they're likely to go against their natural swing. Then, a goalkeeper can look at physical aspects such as where the hips are facing. If the hips are opened up to a certain side, then generally that's where the ball is going. These things happen very quickly and it's very difficult to process all this in a few split seconds.

Some players are getting craftier now. They have those little hesitation run-ups to see if a goalkeeper moves. If he does and the shooter is clever enough and skilled enough to go to the other side, he has an advantage. If a goalkeeper doesn't fall for it, the shooter will try going to his strongest side.

And of course, we try to get a history on the opposing players. Even during the match, you try to study the tendencies of certain players. If a player has had several shots on goal and tends to go to the same side, chances are that's his favorite side in taking a penalty kick. Sometimes during a warm-up before games, a potential penalty taker wants to practice his penalties and we try to alert our team to those types of situations.

All these may help prepare a goalkeeper, but I don't have the perfect answer or solution. If I did, then you could only imagine how valuable I would be to a team!

On Monday night before the match, we had a special guest visit the Portugal team. Francois Pienaar, the former rugby player who captained the Springboks when they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, spoke to the players. If you've seen the movie Invictus with Matt Damon as Francois and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, then you are familiar with his story. The players watched an edited down version of the movie and the highlight of the presentation was having Francois there to give an incredible inspirational message to the team.

Number one, he asked the players to imagine. He asked them to imagine the support of the nation; to visualize those young boys and girls who wear their jerseys with their names on it to bed the night before in great anticipation to watch them play.

Number two was no "ifs." Don't accept the word "if" like, "What if I don't make the right pass? What if I don't make the right tackle? What if I don't take the right shot?" He told the team to remove that word from their language. Instead use the word "if" I do this than there is a positive outcome.

And the third point was positive energy. From the moment you wake up, maintain positive energy because it's contagious. Francois truly captivated our players and he left them with one final message: Don't play with fear, but play with excitement.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Portugal's Magical Moment versus North Korea

Now that is how you play football!

Portugal's 7-0 win over North Korea on Monday was obviously a big moment for the team.

It really was the perfect game for Portugal. Our head coach Carlos Queiroz and staff prepared the team very well. The tactical plan was executed flawlessly by our players. We saw great mental preparation from the players so we couldn't have asked for a better effort or a better result. You could see the desire in their eyes and could feel the intensity in the locker room. And most importantly, it certainly puts us in a very good position to advance to the next round.

Having six different players score for our team was huge. To have that kind of variation in scoring is tremendous for Portugal. It was a total team effort.

The team had four changes in the starting line-up from the previous match and that can be a primary motivator for the players. For the coaching staff, it's important to have players who can be called upon at any given moment. We have a roster of 23 and we know we can depend on any of those players to get the job done. They all have been prepared to be called up upon if needed.

I think the biggest difference between this win and our draw against Ivory Coast was our flank play, and quick and deep runs from midfield. They were all very effective. And to the credit of the North Koreans, they came to play. Even though they use a 5-3-2 system, which is a very defensive set-up, they came to play football. Ivory Coast, they literally parked the bus in front of the goal against us and was only relying on counter attacking.

Portugal's previous match against North Korea, the 5-3 comeback win at the 1966 World Cup, certainly served as motivation for our team. Two great players who played that game and were part of that successful run in 1966, the legends Simoes and Eusebio, were with the team. Part of the reason they are here is to offer inspiration and wisdom and to share their knowledge and experiences. I would have to say that that was a factor in our performance. And Both Simoes and Eusebio were extremely excited and thrilled about this 7-0 win, so that shows you how historic a result this was for the Portuguese team.

What's important now is to focus on the next task at hand. When you're in the winning business, all a victory does is bring relief. You only celebrate when you win a championship so for us the win was a relief and it instilled a tremendous amount of confidence, enthusiasm and spirit. After the match, we enjoyed the moment, but as of this morning (Tuesday) we start preparations for Brazil.

I believe the magic began a few days before our match versus North Korea. It was not a great pass, spectacular finish or perfectly timed tackle. It was Bingo! We played Bingo in South Africa. In Portugal we would play every other day. Often times, for no particular reason, staff and administrators would win the prizes. The players would always complain that it was the same winners all the time. When we played in South Africa the players asked two servers of the hotel to sit with them and enjoy the game of Bingo. Well, guess who won the first bingo game. It was me, the American! I was the first to complete one line with the correct numbers.

The second prize was won by one of the servers. He had a huge smile on his face while he was collecting his prize. The team leaped from their chairs and gave him a standing ovation. It was a celebration. Well, guess what happened next? The second prize was won by the other server. Once again there was a standing ovation and celebration. I wondered how this was possible.

The numbers were called out in Portuguese. The servers had no idea what numbers they were calling. The players decided collectively that when a number was called they would tell the servants it was a number on their card, even though it was incorrect. The servers had no idea and believed they had won. It was an act of kindness and concern for others. Naturally, I could not be selfish and keep my prize. We called someone from the kitchen and I donated my prizes to them. The kitchen employee put the prizes down on the floor and starting dancing and chanting. We all were jumping up and down with joy. His happiness was contagious.

The Valley Lodge manager was thrilled for the employees. She told me the winners gave her all her prizes to put into the safe. I asked why? She said the winners were considering various options on how to get the prizes home safely. Why? Because these are prime prizes that if they walked home with them there would be a good probability that they would get stolen. Here we are in a room full of super egos with great abilities to play soccer; Portugal's national gladiators who are preparing themselves for battle to defend their country on the soccer field. Yet, they were sensitive enough to recognize that the servers were the stars tonight. For sure the servers will never forget this evening. This experience for me has not only been about the X's and O's, it's been about the human side of things and the goodness that we are all capable of sharing.

It was a magic moment. The feeling in the room was of joy and happiness for the three servers who won the prizes. I will never forget the atmosphere and the kindness of our players. Having the humility to understand at that moment was really important. It was a moving moment for me and those who were present.

You know, I was thinking of the differences of being associated with a team that qualifies for the World Cup as compared to being a fan at the World Cup. I would not give up my seat for anyone, but other than game day we are isolated from the world cup atmosphere. My family called me the night before the North Korea match. I asked, "What's all that noise?" They told me that the Portuguese immigrants have taken over Cape Town. People would be having dinner and someone would stand and begin to sing the Portuguese National Anthem. We are not exposed to the spirited environment.

Just before kickoff against North Korea I had a huge surprise. One of the staff members sitting in the stands was able to get my attention. I was able to run over give my wife Mary and son's Daniel and Jordan a kiss and a hug. It was a very surreal moment. I could see their happiness and pride for their dad and husband.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coach Gaspar's Interview with Jason Page on ESPN Radio 1410 AM - June 15, 2010

Click the link below to listen to Coach Gaspar's interview with Jason Page on ESPN Radio 1410 AM from Tuesday, June 15, 2010. Coach talks about Portugal's opening game against Ivory Coast (0-0 draw), as well as general thoughts about his 2010 World Cup experience.

Click Here to Hear the Interview

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Portuguese National Team Moment of Truth and Team Bonding

The moment of truth is just around the corner. Portugal plays its first World Cup match, Tuesday, June 15th 10:00 a.m. (eastern time) versus Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth at the beautiful Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

As many of you know, we defeated Cameroon 3-1 in a preparation match in Covilha, Portugal. Eighty thousand people bid us farewell from the Eduardo VII Park as we departed from Lisbon. When we arrived in Johannesburg we were greeted by thousands of Portuguese immigrants at the airport as well as along the highway. I've never seen so much green and red colors. Portuguese immigrants are the largest number of immigrants in South Africa. Our training sessions are also attended by thousands of Portuguese fans. According to the police, 200 cars followed us to our final destination. There are eight teams who are receiving the most security attention. The United States is considered a high risk team and has extensive security. The Portugal National Team is also on that list as a result of the popularity of the team.

We also defeated Mozambique 3 to 0. These results were beneficial on many levels. Cameroon and Mozambique are similar in many aspects to Ivory Coast. These positive results have built momentum and confidence that will prepare us versus Ivory Coast.

Our players have worked very hard physically, emotionally, mentally and tactically to meet the challenges of our World Cup opponents. Our desire and hope is that our players can deliver the results that will make all Portuguese citizens and fans proud of their efforts. Soccer is without a doubt full of surprises. The expectations are high and the demands are immense but our hope is that we realize our potential. The Portuguese National Team and staff understand that this a once in a life time opportunity. We cannot make any guarantees but we can promise that everything they have will be left on the field.

A strong team becomes one in purpose and desire. Carlos Queiroz has done a very good job in organizing events to establish cohesiveness, both on and off the field. Everyone is encouraged to participate and communicate in team building activities, creating a dynamic environment and encouraging creativity. You can build trust with well planned activities. The goal is to strengthen the group through building team work. A soccer team is a collection of people who come together to share something in common. In our case, it's to go as far as we possibly can in the World Cup, preparing our team to be in the best position to compete.

Our circle is closed tight. Therefore, I cannot share our preparation in detail. In particular, on the field preparations and team meetings. Those are sacred areas and require ultimate respect and confidentiality. However, here are some off the field activities that you might be interested in knowing.

Portugal Air Force

Our players lived a different experience. When they arrived at Santos Pinto Stadium they were surprised to discover that they would be trading their uniforms and soccer shoes for camouflage military clothes, painted faces with National Team colors and paint ball guns. The Portuguese Air Force turned the soccer stadium into a course of combat and special operations. They were involved in a strategy of cooperation organized by the Portuguese Air Force.

The focus was on creating a spirit of cohesion, loyalty, discipline and completing a mission. We all had to work together in order to achieve success. Our team was divided into two groups. Each had to perform activities that required cooperation and communication. After each event they earned an envelope with a note inside. Gathering all the envelopes allowed the players to group the notes together to understand the mission. The leader of each group read a quote from Aristotle and Christopher Reeve.

Joao Garcia

Joao Garcia is an alpinist. He is one of ten who have climbed 14 of the biggest mountains in the world without oxygen. The idea he shared with us was that one Portuguese man has climbed the biggest mountain and one team can win the World Cup. His message was that you need to love what you do and do it with honesty and hard work; that the event should be the motivation and that anything is possible. He said that 12 people have gone to the moon but only 10 have climbed the 14 biggest mountains.

Black Eyed Peas Concert

The Black Eyed Peas held a concert in Lisbon, Portugal at the Portugal National Team Stadium. The Portuguse National Team adopted the song 'I Gotta Feeling' as its theme. We were in Covilha at our training camp and could not attend the concert. They organized a live feed of the concert and transmitted images of our team and staff viewed on a large TV screen at the stadium as 40,000 people chanted 'Portugal, Portugal Portugal.' The song 'I Gotta a Feeling' has motivated us, relaxed us and helps give us positive results. As Nani said we would have loved to attend the concert, but we cannot and asked the crowd to enjoy the concert for us.

Fernando Rocha

Comedian Fernando Roach performed for our team. Laughter is a great stress reliever. He had us all rolling on the floor. By the end of the evening we felt like we had done a thousand sit ups. Our abdominals were sore because of the strain of laughter.

Lion Park Safari

You cannot come to South Africa and not experience a Safari. We had three jeeps filled with players, coaching staff and administrators. We saw plenty of animals and took plenty of photos. Although we felt safe inside the jeep, it's amazing to see such great athletes and players fear and respect these massive, dangerous animals, especially the lions. That was another great team event that helped bring the team together. When you are together for over a month team bonding is crucial on and off the field.


After our victory against Mozambique we attended a Gala. One of our players and a coach sat at each of the tables. It was a first class occasion. Coach Queiroz, Ronaldo, Simao and Deco were on stage to answer questions. We were all in our official national team suits. My guess is that there were at least 400 people in attendance. It was a fun evening with excited Portuguese fans from South Africa.


Often we play Bingo. There islots of drama and plenty of banter. One night, I got up and yelled, "I Love the Game!" They assumed I won, but I never said 'Bingo.' Countless dinner napkins were tossed at me. It's on video can’t wait to see it!

H20 Spa

We went to an incredible spa facility. Naturally these super stars have traveled the world and have experienced the best of the best. They were impressed with the first class environment. After a demanding training camp in Covilha it was a great move to have the players relax and regenerate. Players had all types of relaxation methods – including a pool, sauna, steam, hot and cold baths, massages, fresh and salt water whirl pools, etc. The spa was on top of a mountain with some great views. Everyone was chilling, big time!

Fernando Ferreira

Fernando Ferreira, a world class singer, performed for us. He imitates 100 voices of famous singing artists in several languages. He was amazing and our players and staff truly enjoyed his talents.

South African Magician

Each magic trick was more challenging than the one before. Players were impressed. They thought they had figured the magic trick out, but they could not catch him. He was too quick and a professional. Some of the magic tricks at the end would make you just shake your head.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The World Cup is Quickly Approaching

COVILHA, PORTUGAL -- The World Cup is quickly approaching. The Portuguese national team finished its preparation on home soil and will be leaving for South Africa Saturday.

As many of you know, we defeated Cameroon 3-1 in a preparation match earlier this week. The result was beneficial on many levels. Cameroon is very similar to Ivory Coast, who we play first at the World Cup, so the result was very positive.

The country was waiting for a good result and we delivered by scoring three goals and winning in front of our home fans. Unfortunately, we conceded one and that prevented goalkeeper Eduardo from surpassing the national team record for number of minutes without allowing a goal. The team had kept seven straight clean sheets before Tuesday.

While the performance against Cameroon was more dynamic than the previous 0-0 result against Cape Verde, I believe it was unfair to judge the team based on that draw. The team had only seven players -- three of them goalkeepers -- available to train together from day one. It wasn't until two days before the Cape Verde match that we had all of our players arrive in camp. The game against Cameroon was more reflective of having the entire group training together. Prior to that, new players were coming into camp every day. Now we have the players very close to being all at the same fitness level.

Since the full squad arrived, we have held two training sessions per day (75-90 minutes each) for three or four consecutive days before going to just one session per day. We then have one day off every six days.

When the players arrive at the training pitch, they begin to play technical games on their own. For example, a player passes the ball to a teammate and calls out a number. The receiving player must juggle the ball that amount of times before passing it to another teammate and calling out a number for him. If the player fails to reach the number, his teammates surround him and each one gives him a little smack. They also play keep-away in a very small area, typically 4-on-2 or 5-on-2. It's in these games that you see how special and creative the players can be with the ball as they all try to out-do each other with tricks.

The morning sessions focus on technical work as well as possession and attacking schemes with a fitness component. The afternoon sessions are generally tactical in nature, including restarts such as free kick scenarios, both defensive and attacking. During the free kick drills, I enjoy watching the brilliance of players like Deco, Bruno Alves, Simao, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Duda. Each one has his unique ritual for free kicks, but all of them are amazing with accuracy, power and movement of the ball. All of the players are trying to adjust to the new Adidas World Cup ball. They discuss the differences between the balls used at their clubs versus this new one. The World Cup ball definitely reacts differently, but it is what it is and they realize they need to learn to love it. Liedson, Nani and Miguel Veloso rest up some aching muscles.

We finish our training sessions with a match before taking penalty kicks and recording the results. Some players have a weight program and they will either go to the gym before or after training. Ronaldo, in particular, hits the gym daily. Afterwards, there are pool activities, bath contrasts with whirl and ice pools as well as massages for regeneration. In the pool, the players will stretch as well as perform some basic movements that involve running and footwork.

Back at the hotel, there are game rooms for players and staff that include dart boards, ping-pong, table soccer, a pool table and video games. Interestingly, the best players on the field tend to be the best players in the game room as well -- they are VERY competitive. We also have some great laughs during bingo games.

We took one day to specifically focus on team bonding. The Portuguese Air Force came in and did a paintball course which was absolutely fantastic. The players were all dressed up in army gear and face paint. An army-type course was created at the field we train at and the group was divided into two teams captained by Ronaldo and Simao. Every time a team obtained a target, they received an envelope that included a puzzle piece. At the end of the game, it spelled out an inspirational phrase.

It was a tremendous atmosphere and a very important bonding moment. It stressed putting the team above individuality, reminding the players that they will face obstacles but can overcome them together. The primary focus was to cover each other's backs and know that your teammate will be there for you at all times and under all circumstances.

We then had Joao Garcia share his inspirational story with the team. Joao is one of 10 people in the world to have climbed all 14 mountains above 8,000 feet. In his first attempt to climb Mount Everest, his climbing partner fell to his death and Joao lost parts of his nose and fingers to frostbite. He talked to the players about the three most important things to obtaining success -- passion, honesty and hard work.

The players also got in a little relaxation that day with some time at a spa and had a few laughs with a stand-up comic performing for them.

The president of Portugal will meet the team on Saturday before we head off to South Africa. When we arrive, there will be more focus on tactical information and preparing the players more specifically for Ivory Coast.

Live the World Cup!
Dan Gaspar

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nelson Mandela World Cup

The Beauty and Power of South Africa

In 2000 I had the honor of working with the Bafana Bafana soccer team. I was invited by the South African National Team Head Coach Carlos Queiroz. They were preparing for the African Nation’s Cup in Mali.

There were two profound memories from my time there that impacted my life. The first was the incredible natural beauty and power of South Africa. The lightning storms were spectacular -- the cracking sounds of the lightning makes you realize how we are not in charge.

Going to the Lost City and taking a Safari was spectacular. Seeing the big five: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, and buffalo forced you to respect wildlife. The roar of the Lion made you quickly on alert quickly. The power of the rhino made you realize inside your jeep is where you belong. The massive size and strength of the elephant makes you understand why they have survived so many years. The speed of the leopard makes you realize they were untouchable and the buffalo's stare freezes you in your tracks.

The Mystery and Magic of Muti

The second memory was when the South African National Team was preparing for their match versus World Cup and European Champion, France. I was in the locker room and one of the assistant coaches came to me said, “I know you have attended a number of coaching courses and have traveled the world. What is about to happen no book or course has ever prepared you for.”

I became concerned. I quickly walked backwards and put my back up against the wall. All of a sudden there was a peculiar knock on our door. The locker room became silent. Muti entered the room. Who is Muti? Muti is a witch doctor wearing a tribal costume. He began chanting and spreading white powder and what seemed to be small bone chips around the locker room. All of a sudden - poof! - he disappeared.

Now, he did not vanish into thin air. He walked out of the locker. One by one each South African player began singing their individual tribal battle song until at the end they were all singing the same battle song. It is impossible to share with you the spirit that was created in the locker room. It was a special environment. We drew with France 0 to 0. The South African players demonstrated imagination, creativity, elegance, power, speed and no fear in taking risks.

At the time I was coaching the A League Connecticut Wolves and took the opportunity to hunt for players. Instead of returning to the Connecticut Wolves with players, I brought Muti back with me!

Handshake of Inspiration

The last, and the most profound memory, was when the Portugal National Team was invited to Nelson Mandela's compound. Having had the opportunity to listen to Mandela share his journey to freedom while he was in prison for 29 years was amazing. We shook hands and to this day I can feel that handshake.

Mandela was a former boxer. His hands were strong and thick. Today when I encounter what I perceive as problems I reflect back to our handshake and realize that my problems are miniscule compared to his. I realize how trivial my issues are. His smile transmitted peace and serenity. He was so gracious and patient with us all.

He loves soccer. As a result of soccer I have had the good fortune to have worked with, or personally witness, world class coaches and players. With all due respect to those stars, none have impressed or impacted me more than simply an introduction to Nelson Mandela.

The game of soccer represents diversity and we all know how he feels about that. We all hope we will witness Mandela at the age of 91 kick off the 2010 World Cup. We could not have a more deserving human being.

Ten years later I return to South Africa to participate in the World Cup with the Portugal National Team. My hope is that once again I have the privilege and honor of shaking Nelson Mandela's hand.

Live The World Cup!
Dan Gaspar