World Ranking: 3rd
Best World Cup finish: 3rd in 1966
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Probable starting eleven
Defenders: LB Fabio Coentrao, CB Bruno Alves, CB Ricardo Carvalho, RB Paulo Ferreira
Midfielders: CM Deco, CDM Pepe, LM Raul Meireles, RW Cristiano Ronaldo, LW Simao Sabrosa
Forward: ST Liedson
Key Subs: CM Danny, RB Miguel, CDM Miguel Veloso
Heading into South Africa, the Portuguese national team faces a stern test having been drawn into the so called “Group of Death” featuring the likes of Brazil, Ivory Coast and the lesser light of the group North Korea.
The 2010 World Cup draw was the last thing on Portuguese minds just a few months back when it looked like qualification would be an after thought. Having been unable to defeat both Sweden and Denmark and dropping points to the likes of Albania, Portugal found themselves needing help to even confirm a second place finish in their qualifying group.
With consecutive wins over Hungary and a Denmark defeat of Sweden, Portugal confirmed a second place group finish. A two-legged playoff against Bosnia-Herzegovina would ensue with Portugal winning both matches by a score of 1-0, doing so with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo sidelined with a leg ailment for both fixtures. Portugal had booked their trip to South Africa but question marks still mired the squad.
First and foremost, the team’s reliance on Ronaldo is a concern considering he has failed to produce at the international level compared to the success he has had domestically with Manchester United and with current club Real Madrid.
In fact, the world’s most expensive player did not score a goal throughout the whole 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, which was a prime reason why the national team struggled in qualification.
The tactics of new coach Carlos Queiroz may be playing a part in Ronaldo’s decline and the former Manchester United assistant is facing increasing pressure after a poor qualifying campaign. One of the major concerns for Quieroz, is his lack of striking options on the squad.
With the retirement of Pedro Pauleta after the 2006 World Cup and the regression of Benfica striker Nuno Gomes due to his age, the lack of top notch strikers has hurt the development of the team.
The lack of a top notch striker was such a concern that as soon as Sporting Lisbon’s Brazilian born striker Liedson was granted Portuguese citizenship he became the first choice striker right away ahead of Werder Bremen’s Hugo Almeida and the aforementioned Gomes.
While the striker position is a concern, it is hardly the only issue on the squad. With first choice right-back Jose Bosingwa being ruled out of the tournament because of injury, Paulo Ferreira and Miguel have been doing their best to impress Queiroz in hope of securing the starting position.
The left-back starting position is also a highly contested battle between Malaga’s Duda and Benfica’s Fabio Coentrao.
Coentrao, who was converted to left-back from his natural position as a winger, has been extremely impressive and should have the advantage for the starting spot. The young Portuguese player is one to watch for the future as he is very technically gifted and has magnificent poise with the ball.
In terms of strengths, Portugal does boast a top class midfield with the likes of Chelsea star Deco, FC Porto’s Raul Meireles, along with a talented wing player in the form of Atletico Madrid’s Simao Sabrosa.
The centre-back duo of Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho is one of the best in the tournament so much so that Real Madrid’s Pepe has been converted from centre-back to defensive midfielder in order for him to feature in the starting eleven.
Portugal is one of the enigmatic teams of the tournament and has the talent to win the whole competition but could also crash out in the group stages. The reliance on Ronaldo must not occur considering his lack of finish on the international stage and contributions from the likes of Liedson, Simao Sabrosa and Deco will be a must if Portugal wishes to go far in the tourney.