Euro 2012 Preview: Team Portugal
Nickname: The Navigators
Rankings: FIFA (5), Elo (8), SPI (5)
Euro History: Final (2004), Semifinals (1984, 2000), Quarterfinals (1996, 2008)
Last Five Tournaments: R16 – QF – SF – F – GS
History: Portugal’s history is the history of Portugal’s iconic players. 1966 was Eusebio’s year. He led them to the World Cup semifinals. Luis Figo led the Portuguese to semifinals at Euro 2000 and the 2006 World Cup and the Euro 2004 final. This year, for Portugal to succeed, Cristiano Ronaldo must continue that pattern. Ronaldo featured for the 2004 and 2006 team, but as the torchbearer he has yet to win a knockout round. Ronaldo is the captain. He’s in his competitive prime. If Portugal are to advance from this arduous group, he must carry them.
Qualification: Portugal finished second to Denmark in Group H. They had a 5-2-1 record and a +9 goal difference. They lost at Denmark and Norway and drew Cyprus 4-4 at home. The Portuguese beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-2 on agg in the playoff to reach the tournament.
Coach: The Portuguese are coached by Paulo Bento, 42, a former Portuguese international. He was criticized for boring, negative football while manager at Sporting Lisbon. He was also the club’s most successful all-time manager. He was a cup specialist, winning two Portuguese Cups and bringing SCP to the Champions League knockout stages. He’ll hope to recreate that magic at international level.
Squad: Portugal is strong in the middle. Bruno Alves and Pepe are both experienced and physical. Meireles, Moutinho and Veloso provide a solid defensive midfield. Their strength, however, is speed on the wings. Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira can launch attacks from either fullback position. Ronaldo is the best European player. Nani is speedy and skillful as well. Their one weakness is striker. 2010′s solution was to import a Brazilian, Liedson. 2012′s solution is likely Helder Postiga. He has a decent strike rate for Portugal, but he’s basically much more than a place holder. If teams can stifle Ronaldo, Portugal don’t have a plan B going forward.
Tactics: Bento plays a 4-3-3. Three defensive midfielders sit narrowly protecting the back four. They will look to absorb pressure and counterattack quickly down the wings. That’s the game that suits Ronaldo and, thus, Portugal.
New Man: Ronaldo had terrible form under Carlos Quieroz, but under Bento, a player at Sporting when Ronaldo was there as an academy youth, he has found his national team form. Ronaldo has scored nine times in 11 matches since Bento took charge.
Prognosis: The group draw was anything but ideal. Portugal are stuck with two of the three best teams in the tournament. The third opponent is frequent qualifying foe Denmark, a team they’ve beaten just one of four times the past two qualifying rounds. We’ll find out how good they are quickly. They play Germany in the first match.
Fun Fact: The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373 is the world’s longest standing alliance.