Portugal head into the 2014 World Cup among the second wave of contenders. Although landing in an extremely difficult group is a major roadblock on their path to a championship, the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo ensures the side won't be an easy out.
Ronaldo headlines the 30-man preliminary roster chosen by manager Paulo Bento. The question is whether the Real Madrid superstar's supporting cast will be strong enough for Portugal to challenge the likes of Brazil, Spain, Germany or Argentina in the later rounds.
But first, the side must focus on making it out of Group G, which also features the aforementioned Germans, Ghana and the United States. Let's check out the entire preliminary roster, followed by a lineup projection and a squad breakdown.
Full 30-Man Preliminary Roster
|DF||Fabio Coentrao||Real Madrid|
|MF||Miguel Veloso||Dynamo Kyiv|
|FW||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid|
Starting 11 Projection
Quite simply, everything starts and ends with Ronaldo for Portugal. If the talented winger is in top form, as he was during the UEFA playoffs, the Seleccao are a legitimate title threat because he's one of the few players in the world capable of completely taking over a match.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in the deciding leg of the playoffs to eliminate Sweden and ensure Portugal would be heading to Brazil. A couple individual efforts like that in the World Cup is all his side needs to make a serious run.
The Real Madrid fan favorite is keeping things in perspective, though. Michael Wade of the Daily Mail passed along comments Ronaldo made to Spanish outlet AS in which he talked about other countries serving as the top contenders:
[Portugal] must take it one game at a time, nothing is impossible in football. The strongest teams are Spain, Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina... Any team could go on and win it but the two big favourites are Spain and Brazil.
Aside from him, there aren't many certainties when it comes to the lineup. A lot will be decided by Bento based on the form players show during a trio of friendlies before heading to South America.
How will Portugal fare in Group G?
Rui Patricio should get the nod in goal but figures to get a challenge from fellow veteran Eduardo.
Pepe will headline a back line that features a solid combination of skill and experience. Perhaps the biggest question mark is on the right side. Joao Pereira has the most appearances and showcased good form for Valencia, giving him the edge.
The toughest choices for Bento come in the midfield. It's the one area where opponents have an opportunity to gain a serious advantage. And if Portugal aren't able to control the middle of the pitch, advancing from a tough group becomes much tougher.
Paul Carr of ESPN notes they are only a slight favorite to advance over the United States:
SPI odds to advance, Group G: Germany 91.8%, Portugal 40.2%, #USMNT 39.3%, Ghana 28.8%.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) December 6, 2013
Finally, the best options to join Ronaldo up front are Helder Postiga and Nani. It would have been nice if the Manchester United winger had a better club campaign, but unless one of the other wingers shines during the build-up, it's probably his spot to fill.
All told, there weren't any surprises in the preliminary squad. Those usually don't come until the final cut-down occurs and a manager is forced into some tough decisions. But for a side without a ton of depth like Portugal, it should be straightforward for the most part.
As things stand right now, Portugal look like a side capable of reaching at least the final eight assuming Ronaldo is at full strength. Their game against the United States could very well decide which team ends up advancing.
Anything can happen if they do move on to the knockout rounds.