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Figo retires from international soccer

Figo was arguably Portugal's most consistent and exhausted performer in Germany, where he started all games up to Saturday's third-place match.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2006 17:46 IST

Luis Figo retired from international soccer Saturday after making his 127th appearance for Portugal. The Portugal captain made his announcement after Portugal lost the third-place match to Germany 3-1.

"This was my last game for the national team," the 33-year-old Figo said. "I'm leaving at a time when Portuguese soccer is at a high point."

Pauleta, Portugal's all-time leading scorer who is the same age as Figo, also said it was time for him to bow out. "Everything has a beginning and an end. This is my end," the striker said.

As good as Figo was in his 15 years with the national team, he could not equal Eusebio's feat of claiming third place at the 1966 World Cup.

Figo was arguably Portugal's most consistent and exhausted performer in Germany, where he started all games up to Saturday's third-place match.

With the hope of at least equaling Eusebio, who led Portugal over the Soviet Union in 1966 and a third-place finish, Figo was the last of the country's so-called 'golden generation' and now cedes the mantle to a younger crop of players.

"It's hard to end our tournament like this," Figo said. "But the defeat doesn't erase what Portugal has done in Germany."

A glimpse of what life after Figo will look like for Portugal came in Stuttgart when the midfielder gave up his place in the starting lineup to 26-year-old Simao Sabrosa.

Without the steadying hand of Figo, who had scored 32 goals for Portugal, the side lacked direction and gave perhaps its most colorless performance of the competition.

When he entered as a substitute for his record 127th appearance in Portuguese colors with 13 minutes left, the 52,000 crowd (nearly every one of them German) stood and applauded him. His impact was immediate.

The Portuguese looked more dangerous going forward, and when Figo received the ball on the right wing with two minutes remaining he sent over a dipping cross for Nuno Gomes to score at the back post with a diving header.

The few Portuguese fans rang out their usual chant of "Fi-go, Fi-go."

The game was Figo's last chance at international glory. Portugal's best player of his generation won plenty of titles at some of Europe's top clubs.

He was also voted European Player of Year in 2000, and the following year earned the highest accolade when he was elected FIFA's World Player of the Year. He mostly knew heartbreak at international level, though.

At the 2002 World Cup, Portugal was highly touted with its golden generation, but was beaten by the United States and South Korea and didn't get out of the group stage.

Two years later at home in the European Championship, Portugal rode a wave of national euphoria all the way to the final, only to lose to Greece in the final.

Figo's contemporaries, who also included midfielder Rui Costa, broke up without winning any silverware.

The setbacks prompted Figo to withdraw from international soccer in late 2004.

He returned, however, and helped Portugal through a 12-match unbeaten World Cup qualifying campaign.

Despite his age, he was a role model on and off the field for less experienced members of the squad in Germany. In the opening-game win over Angola, he was selected as man of the match.

He helped steer Portugal on a five-game unbeaten streak up to the semifinals where it lost to France.