DORTMUND: Luiz Felipe Scolari is the Vittorio Pozzo of his generation; a head coach who has become more important than his team.
When Italy won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938, it was the contribution of Pozzo, cosmopolitan and multilingual, a true innovator, that proved to be the key factor. If Portugal win the World Cup in Berlin on Sunday, it will be more because of Scolari than because of the players, who, individually, are no better than any of their predecessors since 1966.
Scolari, an animated Brazilian, famously said that players and not coaches win football matches, but even he would have to admit that he has had a profound effect on this Portugal team, just as he had a profound effect on the Brazil team that won the 2002 World Cup.
This has, so far, been the World Cup of the bad coach. Sven-Goran Eriksson made a mess of potentially the best England team in two generations. Jose Pekerman undermined the best Argentina team since 1986. Carlos Alberto Parreira made Brazil, ostensibly the most talented in the tournament, look old and out of touch.
Good coaches, however, are more difficult to spot. Scolari is perhaps the finest, most astute, of all the 32 that took part at WM2006. He was so good that the Football Association wanted him to replace Eriksson - and so good that he had the bravery to turn down what is supposed to be the most high-profile job in world football. Only a man with such self-assurance would tell the FA where to go.
Without Scolari, it is hard to see how Portugal could have gone so far. They have good players and, in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco, very good players, but this is not a team to set the pulse racing. This is not a team that will go down in World Cup history as being out of the ordinary. This is not a team that rivals the Portugal of 1966 that finished third in England.
This team, which will play France in the semi-final in Munich tonight, is here because its head coach has found the perfect balance between heart and head. He has encouraged - no, make that forced - his players to marry South American flair with north European steel.
It helps to have a coach who can make good players feel like great players. Eriksson, by contrast, seems to have made the great players of England feel like good players.
Little surprise, then, that the England players are watching the rest of the tournament from the luxury of their homes, while the Portugal players are preparing for their most important match since the team reached the semi-finals in England in 1966.
To put the brilliance of Scolari into an even greater contrast, consider the wretched performance of Brazil. This was, by common consent, a better Brazil team than the one of 2002. Then, Brazil were embellished by Scolari and won the tournament; this time, they were diminished by Parreira and went out in the quarter-finals.
Parreira seemed to be too interested in the egos of superstars, whereas Scolari has a proven track record in upsetting more established names. Players, even those who earn #5 million a year, are scared of Scolari. They are scared because they respect him.
Portugal are no longer soft in the centre. They are talented yet tough. True, they resort to gamesmanship once in a while - Cristiano Ronaldo versus Wayne Rooney in the quarter-final is just one example - but that is part of their appeal. They make virtues of their vices.
And so, while England, Brazil and Argentina are licking their wounds, Portugal are enjoying their moment in the sun. They will need to improve on their performance against England if they are to defeat France, but Scolari will have something up his sleeve.
It never bothered Vittorio Pozzo in the Thirties that Italy were not the best team in the world. His mission was to win the World Cup, which he did - twice.
Scolari has already won it once. If he wins it a second time, in Berlin on Sunday, he will deserve his medal a lot more than his players will deserve theirs.