World Cup History: Third Place (1966)
World Cup History: Third Place (1966)
This is the third time that Portugal have qualified for a major tournament via the playoffs. Having finished second in their qualifying group, a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired 4-2 aggregate victory secured them a place on the plane to Brazil.
Portugal may not be favourites to win the World Cup but their coach Paulo Bento believes that will work in their favour and rivals should beware. It will be hard knocking them out – and that team would have a strong chance of winning the title – but as a unit, Portugal are not yet among the very best in world football.
They lack a world-class centre-forward, their midfield needs imagination, and they are too dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo to score goals.
History at the World Cup
Barring their splendid 1966 performance, Portuguese World Cup history is mostly derived from the last decade. In the late 90s, young Portuguese footballers such as Luis Figo, Pauleta and Manuel Rui Costa burst into prominence on the European club scene.
The term ‘golden generation’ was coined for these players. During this period, Portugal went from the footballing backwaters of Western Europe to a powerhouse: semis at Euro 2000 and the final at Euro 2004, although their World Cup return in 2002 ended in the group stage.
The team looks great on paper, but there are still major problems which continue to harass this Portuguese team. The back four is pretty settled, but they have regularly struggled to garner a suitable balance in the middle of the pitch.
They are weak up front, where their options in front of goal – Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga – have been decent for country but uninspiring for their clubs.
Paolo Bento has accordingly picked a side laden with power and pace, but perhaps lacking creativity in midfield, where Joao Moutinho is the only sure starter. Nani and Ronaldo will occupy either flank, with Fabio Coentrao reprising his Real Madrid supporting role for Ronaldo on the left.
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla FC), Rui Patrício (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Eduardo (SC Braga).
Defenders: André Almeida (SL Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahçe SK), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid CF), Pepe (Real Madrid CF), João Pereira (Valencia CF), Ricardo Costa (Valencia CF), Neto (FC Zenit).
Midfielders: João Moutinho (AS Monaco FC), Miguel Veloso (FC Dynamo Kyiv), Raúl Meireles (Fenerbahçe SK), Rúben Amorim (SL Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Rafa (SC Braga).
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF), Éder (SC Braga), Hélder Postiga (SS Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Beşiktaş JK), Nani (Manchester United FC), Silvestre Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (VfL Wolfsburg).
Paolo Bento was appointed Portugal manager in September 2010. His first match in charge was a 3-1 home defeat of Denmark. The highlight of his tenure has been a 4-0 drubbing of neighbours Spain in a 2010 friendly, the heaviest defeat the world champions had suffered in 48 years.
As Portugal’s manager, his record has been decent. He has proven that he can results, despite tremendous criticism from fellow footballers. His only international test yet came at Euro 2012, where after a slow start Portugal made it to the semi-finals, losing to Spain on penalties after dominating the contest.
He also has a personal equation with several players. In his final seasons as a player, Bento played alongside a young Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting; later as manager, he brought Nani, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso into the first team. In a 2012 interview, Nani declared that he owed Bento his “whole career”.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been nothing short of extraordinary over the last few years. He has amassed an incredible 32 goals in just 22 games for both club and country this season.
Proof of the man’s genius and importance to Portugal was seen in the second leg of their playoff against Sweden. A Ronaldo hattrick pulled his team through when it looked as if they were being threatened with elimination and propelled him to the top of the betting to pick up the 2013 Ballon D’or.
If he can perform to his extraordinary best, then anything is possible for this team.
Best starting XI
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio
Defenders: Coentrao, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Pereira;
Midfielders: Veloso, Carvalho; Ronaldo, Moutinho, Nani;
Even a unidimensional team can do well if that one dimension happens to be good enough, and there is no doubt that Ronaldo is good enough. The question that should concern Bento is whether the other 10 – all classy footballers in their own right – can step up in case their captain has an off day or is injured.
In a group with Germany, USA and Ghana, Portugal should qualify for the knockouts, but they will need to start better than they did at Euro 2012. Neither USA nor Ghana will be pushovers, and Germany are among the favourites, with more talented individuals than Portugal.