Portugal World Cup 2014: Team Guide for FIFA Tournament
Often talented but usually flawed, Portugal will be relying on their great individual talent to inspire what would be a surprise success in Brazil.
The Iberians have always had gifted players, and they do once more this time around, but it is impossible to discuss them without arriving at the same conclusion time and time again. They are going to need Cristiano Ronaldo to perform well to stand any chance.
In what is a particularly tough group, coach Paulo Bento will be aware of that more than most, and his largely experienced squad—10 of the 23 have over 40 caps—will be under huge pressure to escape from a Group G which includes Germany, the USA and Ghana.
Semi-finalists at Euro 2012, it would be a large surprise to see the Portuguese go that far this time around, but if Ronaldo can reach his devastating best, then they’ll feel that anything is possible.
Road to the Finals
Group F of European qualifying looked fairly simple for the Portuguese on paper, but Bento’s side hit a roadblock fairly early.
After an unconvincing 2-1 win in Luxembourg, where they fell behind 1-0, Portugal swept aside Azerbaijan in Braga, and then, the problems started.
A 1-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow handed control of the group to Fabio Capello’s men. Then came a disastrous 1-1 draw at home to Northern Ireland which was followed by a remarkable 3-3 draw in Israel that included a stoppage-time equaliser by Fabio Coentrao.
Now in trouble in the group, they responded by grinding out a win in Azerbaijan and then earning a crucial 1-0 victory at home to Russia thanks to Helder Postiga’s early strike. They then fell 2-1 down to Northern Ireland in Belfast, only for a Ronaldo hat-trick to secure a 4-2 win.
A home draw with Israel and a win over Luxembourg took them into the play-offs, a point behind Russia. When they were drawn to face Sweden, the tie became all about which one of Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic would miss the World Cup.
Portugal’s captain headed a late winner in the first leg in Lisbon, before his hat-trick in a remarkable return match saw him outscore Ibrahimovic by three to two on the night, sending his team to Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting).
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Rafa (Braga).
For a thorough, player-by-player guide to the squad, click here.
After his experiences at Euro 2012, Bento returns to tournament football older and all the wiser.
Capped 35 times for Portugal as a player, the former Sporting Lisbon boss was able to guide his side to the last four in Poland and Ukraine two years ago. They were just a penalty shootout away from ending the dominance of neighbours Spain and reaching a final against Italy that they would have had every chance of winning.
Having been part of the Portugal teams that failed to qualify for USA '94 and France '98, Bento has experienced World Cup disappointment as a member of the team which flopped so spectacularly in Korea and Japan in 2002. They lost to the USA and South Korea before exiting at the group stages, leading to his international retirement.
With that experience behind him and after being thrown into such a tough group, it would be natural for the 44-year-old to feel more than a few nerves when his side step out for their difficult opening game against Germany in Salvador on June 16.
Bento has already shown that he is his own man though—ignoring calls to put the revitalised Ricardo Quaresma in his final 23 showed that—and so a combination of discipline and relying on Ronaldo is likely to be his approach.
The football that his side played in the Euros two years ago didn’t exactly get the greatest of reviews, but when you’ve got one of the world’s best players in your side, you can get away with that.
Ah yes, Ronaldo. He knows that his country’s fortunes lie on his shoulders this summer, but he wouldn’t really want it any other way.
All of the sponsorships and endorsements he gets around this time every two years places the Real Madrid star at the front and centre of the minds of global audiences, and there is a strong argument that, now 29, he approaches this World Cup at his peak.
As has often been stated about the great players, they usually need to stamp their authority on a tournament in order to establish their true position in the status of global icons. For Ronaldo, a last tournament in his 20s could have to be the time.
He’ll need help of course, but Portugal do have quality sprinkled about in various positions on the field—just none quite up to his standard.
The first match is likely to be key for him, and leading Portugal to any sort of positive result against the well-fancied Germans is likely to set them up nicely for the remaining challenges against the USA and Ghana.
Last year’s Ballon d’Or winner could be entering this tournament with a second Champions League winners’ medal if things go as planned for him in—of all places—Lisbon on Saturday night. And whilst injury concerns may remain, you can be sure that they won’t get in the way of him getting onto the pitch.
More so than any other team in Brazil, the captain is the main man for the Portuguese.
1 to Watch
Barely a week goes by without Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho being linked to one of the big hitters in the Premier League. Jamie McLaughlin of Metro is the latest to report that Liverpool have moved ahead of Manchester United in the race to sign him because of their ability to offer Champions League football.
Prior to Brendan Rodgers’ interest, United were believed to be long-term admirers of the powerful 22-year-old Angola-born midfielder, as per Tom Kundert of The Mirror, and it is easy to see why.
After sharpening up his game during loan spells in both the Portuguese third tier and in Belgium’s top-flight during a season and a half with Cercle Brugge, Carvalho made 30 appearances for Sporting during the 2013/14 campaign. He frequently made his powerful presence felt in midfield, earning him the status of a player worth the exorbitant amounts mentioned in the reports linked to above.
He’ll be battling with the likes of Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso for a midfield berth in Brazil, but Bento has already shown that he has immense faith in the youngster by giving him his international debut as a substitute in the high-pressure surroundings of the second leg of the World Cup play-off against Sweden.
Plenty of players end up earning big moves off the back of successful World Cups, and Carvalho could be just the latest.
World Cup Record
This will only be Portugal’s sixth World Cup, but they have sometimes made an impact in their previous five.
England 1966: Semi-finalists (third place)
The great Eusebio shone in England, taking the Golden Boot and memorably scoring four goals in a remarkable 5-3 quarter-final win over North Korea at Goodison Park.
He ended up with nine strikes in the tournament, including penalties as Portugal lost 2-1 to England in the semi-final. They then beat the Soviet Union by the same scoreline in the third-place play-off.
Mexico 1986: Group stage
Mexico was miserable for the Portuguese, who beat England 1-0 in their first match but then lost to Poland and Morocco to finish bottom of their group.
Korea and Japan 2002: Group stage
An ageing Portuguese side were rocked in Suwon when the United States went 3-0 up after 36 minutes of their opening game. Portugal pulled it back to 3-2 but still lost.
Hope was restored by a Pauleta hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Poland, but Park Ji-Sung’s winner for co-hosts South Korea in Incheon knocked out the Portuguese and led to the sacking of coach Antonio Oliveira.
Germany 2006: Semi-finalists (fourth place)
Angola, a former Portuguese colony, were beaten in the first game thanks to Pauleta’s early goal in Cologne, and further wins over Iran and Mexico ensured that Portugal qualified from a kind group with a 100 per cent record.
Next came The Battle of Nuremburg, as four players were sent off in a remarkable game against the Netherlands which was settled by Maniche’s goal. England were beaten on penalties in the quarter-final after their forward Wayne Rooney was sent off.
Portugal’s run was then ended in Munich as Zinedine Zidane’s penalty took France into the final with a 1-0 win, with hosts Germany then beating them 3-1 in a third-place play-off.
South Africa 2010: Round of 16
Goalless draws with the Ivory Coast and Brazil were bookended with a 7-0 hammering of North Korea in Cape Town which took Portugal through to the second round by a point from the Ivory Coast.
Once there, though, they faced up to Iberian neighbours Spain again in Cape Town, with David Villa’s 63rd-minute strike proving to be all the Spaniards needed on their way to the first of what would be four consecutive 1-0 wins and the trophy.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup record: Played 10 Scored 2
Group G is one of the toughest to predict at the tournament, with it being possible to make a case for all four teams to progress from the group.
Portugal start off with their most difficult assignment as they face Germany in Salvador on June 16, before facing the USA in Manaus on June 22 and then Ghana in Brasilia on June 26.
Germany vs. Portugal
Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
USA vs. Portugal
Arena Amazonia, Manaus
Portugal vs. Ghana
Estadio Nacional, Brasilia