We are now at the stage before every major football tournament where punters are looking for decent odds on who could be a surprise package. After reaching the semi-finals last time around in Germany 2006, the Portuguese have long odds of 28/1 and would naturally attract your eye. However there are very clear reasons why they aren’t contenders this summer.
With the charismatic Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari at their helm at the last three tournaments, the so called ‘golden generation’ took the world by storm. At Euro 2004 in their own back yard the Selecção das Quinas reached the final and lost to Greece in one of footballs biggest upsets. However after losing to Germany and finishing fourth in the World Cup, the last of a crop of superstars including Luis Figo and Pauleta withdrew themselves from the international scene. The players were clearly missed as they were knocked out in the first round of Euro 2008 by the Germans once more.
Since then Carlos Queiroz has been appointed to guide the team to South Africa, and with players at his disposal such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco and Simao, qualification was meant to be an easy ride, with the only danger being the Scandinavian nations Sweden and Denmark. Although they only lost one game courtesy of Denmark, they finished second and had to qualify via the European zone play-offs. The campaign was disastrous, with them drawing many games 0-0 – such as at home to Albania, or scoring last-minute goals, and the fans were getting restless. Sometimes complacency settles in, so they had a chance to prove themselves when they faced Brazil in a friendly in November 2008. A 6-2 thrashing dented any hope fans might have once had. However, they unconvincingly won 2-0 on aggregate against Bosnia and Herzegovina to book a place in South Africa.
Even though the team consists of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a former World Player of the Year and the most expensive player in the history of football, he is another who is struggling under expectations. The captain is currently on a two-year goal drought, and has been criticised for not trying hard enough for his country as opposed to club level. The problem with being such a star player is that he is the player who draws the attention from the opposing team, getting two or three men marking him for the duration of the game. So although he might be struggling to find the net, this aids his teammates such as Liedson or Nani, who have more room on the pitch.
Perhaps having no expectations this summer might play to their advantage. Even though they have been drawn in the so called ‘Group of Death’ alongside Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea in Group G, they will hope that they can overcome the Ivorians for second place, a team which has failed to live up to expectations in recent years. Ironically with Queiroz’s men being written off, they are still ranked third in the FIFA World Rankings, although that does bring into question how creditable that system really is. Injuries haven’t been kind however on Portugal in recent months and could halt their chance of progression from the group stages. Jose Bosingwa hasn’t been able to recover from a knee injury sustained last October, while the likes of Paulo Ferreira, Pepe and Danny have all recovered from long-term injuries – however their fitness is very much in doubt.
The Coach has borne the brunt of the fans anger for his team selection. Recently he called up Brazilian-born Liedson ,who had been naturalised, which sums up the problems they have up front, allowing Ronaldo to revert back to the wing. Central defender Pepe has played in the defensive midfield role while at left-back they have tried out both Duda and Fabio Coentrao, who are predominantly left midfielders. In goal is another issue with Eduardo being undisputed No1, which has outraged Benfica fans whose goalkeeper Quim has been in great form.
When they face Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth on June 15, Portugal will need to rediscover their tournament instinct that was instilled into them by Scolari if they are to progress into the knock-out phase. Hitting form from the off will be vital, seeing as their final game will be against Brazil, who should have progressed by then, giving Portugal the upper hand. With little hope and poor form, perhaps Portugal could provide the biggest upset in South Africa.
As seen on – A Different League