Figo and Pauleta bow out of internationals

July 9, 2006

STUTTGART, July 9 (Reuters) - Portugal captain Luis Figo quit international football following his team's 3-1 defeat to Germany in Saturday's third-place play-off.

Striker Pauleta also announced the end of his Portugal career.

Figo, 33, revealed his decision to Portuguese television following the game in which he made a brief substitute appearance late on and set up his side's consolation goal for Nuno Gomes.

One of the few players to have represented both Spanish arch-rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, Figo had initially announced the end of his Portugal career after the 2004 European Championship, which his side hosted and finished as runners-up.

But he re-considered his decision last year, to the delight of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

'VERY PROUD'

FIFA's 2001 World Player of the Year is Portugal's most capped player with 127 appearances in which he has scored 32 goals.

'It is hard for me to end my international career in this way. I did everything I could and the team gave their all,' he told Portuguese TV reporters.

'I'm very proud to have been part of this team,' he said. 'It's very difficult to leave after 15 years but the time had to come in the end.'

Scolari said that Figo did not start against the Germans because he was still in discomfort following Wednesday's 1-0 semi-final defeat by France.

Figo began his career with Sporting Lisbon before joining Barcelona in 1995.

He stayed there for five years before moving to Real Madrid but became increasingly unhappy with the club's so-called Galaticos policy and moved to Inter Milan at the start of last season.

After playing for Portugal at under-20 level, he made his full international debut against Luxembourg at the age of 18 in 1991.

He went on to play in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 European championships as well as the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Though famous for his dribbling skills on either flank, both he and his Portugal team mates struggled to shrug off the label of perennial underachievers.

Pauleta, 33, is Portugal's all-time leading scorer with 47 goals in 87 appearances.

Despite his team's surprise progress to the semi-finals, he had an unhappy tournament in Germany, scoring his only goal four minutes into Portugal's opening game against Angola.

'Pauleta is part of a group,' said Scolari, defending his striker. 'When he scored all those goals in the qualifiers, he was part of a group then as well.'