2014 World Cup Group G team previews: Portugal
Portugal may not be a favourite to win the World Cup but their coach Paulo Bento believes that works in their favour and rivals should beware.
Bento’s belief will face a stern test at the first hurdle, even with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team, as Portugal have been drawn in Group G with strongly-fancied Germany, 2010 quarter-finalists Ghana and the United States.
However, 44-year-old Bento – who was rewarded with a two year contract extension in April – says that the team is becoming stronger every day.
Whether they have made enough progress to emulate the sides of 1966 – two of whose stars Eusebio and Mario Coluna died this year – and 2006 who reached the semi-finals is questionable but Bento remains convinced of the team’s potential.
“Over the 90 minutes, we could really have achieved that objective of reaching the final (the penalty shootout loss to Spain in Euro 2012 semi-final),” Bento told uefa.com.
“What we did after that was continue to compete in the best possible way – trying to achieve objectives like our presence now in the 2014 World Cup.”
Bento, a hard-tackling midfielder who played in the side that reached the Euro 2000 semi-finals, said Portugal now is operating differently to previous sides.
“There are things we are doing differently now in terms of preparation, in terms of our training, our strategies – they are different from what we did in 2010 or 2011,” he said.
“Football is always evolving and we always need to be ready for that. Portugal play with an identity that we’ve worked on, but obviously we want there to be some evolution in our game.”
Bento’s words did not seem to be supported by what transpired in their World Cup qualifying campaign as they struggled to reach Brazil.
They were held to draws at home by Israel and Northern Ireland on the way to finishing second in their group behind Russia.
As a result, they were forced to come through a play-off to reach the finals.
Happily, though, for Bento World Player of the Year Ronaldo produced two performances that swept aside the doubters who claimed that he went into hiding in tough games.
The 29-year-old scored all the goals in a 4-2 aggregate victory in the two-legged tie with Sweden, including a stunning hat-trick in the second leg in Solna.
Ronaldo, one of the few players left in the squad to have tasted bitter defeat at home to Greece in the Euro 2004 final and in the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012 semi-finals, is delighted that his side go to the finals with supporters’ expectations low.
“We know that Spain, Brazil, Germany and Argentina are the favourites and that is fantastic for us,” he said.
“I am confident. We have a difficult group in my opinion but we will go one game at a time. The first match against Germany will be very difficult but I believe we can have a great World Cup. And without pressure, which is very good.”
One thing that has really hurt Portugal in the past is the lack of a truly top-class centre-forward, which has long been an issue, but another veteran Helder Postiga scored six goals in qualifying, including the winner at home to Russia.
Meanwhile, there is a solid spine to the side with Rui Patricio in goal, Bruno Alves and Pepe in central defence and the likes of Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso in midfield.
Indeed Bento has plenty of options in that area with Sporting’s William Carvalho a superb prospect and with the country’s Federation hopeful of getting permission to allow Porto’s Brazilian holding player Fernando to represent his adopted country.
Five to watch:
Pepe, defender (Real Madrid); Age 31; 57 caps. Though advancing in age, Pepe is as realiable as ever in central defence, having appeared in 30 La Liga matches and 11 more in the Champions League for newly-crowned European champions Real Madrid. Despite his position, scored a remarkable four goals in La Liga this season, a personal best in Spain. Netted in Portugal’s second group game against Denmark at Euro 2012, as well.
Joao Moutinho, midfielder (AS Monaco); Age 27; 74 caps. The former Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto man is not so much a goal threat, with only two in his career for the Portuguese, but plays solid defence while providing excellent creativity in the middle. Justified a mammoth move to France at a reported €25 million (Dh124.9m) by appearing in 30 Ligue 1 matches with the second-place finishers and registering eight assists.
William Carvalho, defensive midfielder (Sporting Lisbon); Age 22; 2 caps. Considered one of the best young prospects in global football, the Angolan-born Carvalho wll be asked to anchor the Portuguese defence in the middle much as he did for Sporting this season. Despite his primarily defensive role, scored four times for Lisbon in 29 Portuguese Primeira Liga matches. Made his international debut for manager Bento in the second leg of the 2014 World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden.
Cristiano Ronaldo, striker (Real Madrid); Age 29; 110 caps. The best player in world football, Ronaldo overtook Pauleta’s Portugal goalscoring record in a March friendly against Cameroon as he brought his international tally to 49. His second-leg hat-trick against Sweden in the World Cup play-off to put his nation through to the World Cup finals was probably one of the highlight performances that helped him win the Ballon d’Or over Lionel Messi. Enjoyed a 31-goal domestic season and set a Champions League record with 17 scores en route to leading Real Madrid to ‘La Decima’ – their 10th European Cup title.
Fabio Coentrao, left back (Real Madrid); Age 26; 44 caps. Was set to leave Real Madrid in January, ended up a starter in the Champions League final. His form with Benfica and Portugal earned him €30m transfer to Real in 2011. Has enough pace and skill to move up on the wing or shift into a defensive midfielder role if need be.
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Updated: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM