World Cup Team Profile - Portugal
Coach: Paulo Bento
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Full Portugal Roster
The Road to Rio: The Portuguese team was in a dogfight throughout nearly the entire first round of qualification with Russia. The teams traded 1-0 home victories and surprising results against the group’s other contenders.
Portugal fell back with back-to-back draws against Northern Ireland and Israel, but Russia would let Portugal back in with a road loss to Northern Ireland. Portugal, however, would draw Israel once more in the second last fixture to put them three back of Russia once more and effectively force them into the playoff round.
The playoff draw set up a clash of superstars with Ronaldo facing off against Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. After scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win in Lisbon, Ronaldo got Portugal on the board in Stockholm in the 50th minute with a streaking strike. Ibrahimovic would answer back with a brace that took less than five minutes to complete. But the comeback would not last long, with Ronaldo needing just two minutes to tack on two goals for the hat trick.
Ronaldo won the stunning skills competition, sending Portugal to Brazil and sending Zlatan home.
Last World Cup appearance: South Africa 2010 (Round of 16)
First World Cup appearance: England 1966 (Third Place)
Previous World Cup appearances: 5
Best World Cup finish: Third Place (England 1966)
Hearing that the best player on planet earth has tendinitis the week before the World Cup begins couldn't have been a pleasant discovery for Bento, but from the insistence of all those surrounding the Seleccao, Cristiano Ronaldo's health is not in doubt and he will be ready to go. Portugal will live and die with Ronaldo and his presence could be enough to make a very good team great and that's what Portugal is hoping for in Brazil. This isn't a great team, yet, but the potential for it to be one is certainly there and that prospect is almost solely due to the current Ballon d'Or holder's game-breaking abilities. Of course, there's more to Portugal than just Ronaldo.
Bento prides his teams on playing strong defence and he got that from the Seleccao during qualifying, where his side kept opposition to under a goal per game during qualifying. At the centre of defence, concerns remain about the health of Pepe (Real Madrid). If he's unable to start, look for Luis Neto (Zenit St. Petersburg) to step in and partner with Bruno Alves (Fenerbache). Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid) and Joao Pereira (Valencia) round out what is a sold back four on paper.
At the centre of the midfield, Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce) is dealing with fitness issues of his own, but appears to be good to go. He'll be alongside William Carvalho (Sporting), a player likely to be one of Europe's hottest properties in the transfer market later this summer, and the skilled Joao Moutinho (Monaco). Moutinho's flair and vision will be relied upon to move the ball forward.
Up front, there are questions outside of Ronaldo. Manchester United's Nani, who has been a favourite of Bento in the past to play on the right, played sporadically for his club this season thanks to injury and, when he did play, he was poor. Bento will hope that signs of rust won't be evident in Brazil.
Favouring a 4-3-3, Bento has two options for a target man as a spearhead. While the offence runs through Ronaldo, it will be either Helger Postiga (Lazio) or Hugo Almeida (Besiktas). Almeida might make the most sense here, as he's more likely to drop back to allow forward movement from Ronaldo.
The talent is here for Portugal to make a run, but one step at a time. There is no true weak link in Group G and getting out of their will be the Seleccao's top priority to begin the tournament. If mental lapses can be avoided and potential realized, Portugal could be a force to be reckoned with in Brazil.