Portugal Preview – Can Ronaldo Carry A Nation?
World Cup 2014
Portugal travel to Brazil with the hopes of the country resting on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal’s form going into the World Cup is solid. A draw against Israel is the only eyebrow-raising result they’ve turned in over the last twelve months, and their only defeat came against World Cup favourites Brazil.
But if you wanted to be picky, you could point out that the only teams they have beaten by more than one goal in the last year were Cameroon, Luxembourg and Northern Ireland – and they conceded two goals in Belfast.
Portugal’s qualifying group was straightforward. All they had to do was avoid defeat in Russia and the rest would be plain sailing. Cue a 1-0 defeat in Russia, followed by dropped points against Northern Ireland and Israel.
Three wins on the trot got them back into contention, but another draw against Israel, this time in front of their own fans, condemned them to the lottery of the play-off.
Pitted against Sweden, they earned a nervy 1-0 victory in the home leg. Cristiano Ronaldo scored ten minutes into the second half of the second leg, but then a double in the space of four minutes by Zlatan Ibrahimovic set Portugese nerves jangling before Ronaldo scored a second and a third in quick succession to seal the tie.
This Portugese squad looks remarkably similar to any other Portugese squad you could name from the last 14 years. It is packed full of solid, technically-adept midfielders and robust, occasionally violent, defenders. It has two fast tricky wingers, a sprinkling of all-time greatness and no strikers to speak of.
That isn’t entirely fair.
Helder Postiga is a decent leader of the line, but he isn’t the sort of prolific goal-poacher who could take some of the goal-scoring pressure off Ronaldo,
and give Portugal a forward line to match Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay.
Portugal will fancy their chances against Ghana and the USA, so the key fixture will be their first, against Germany. The Group G winner will face relatively easy second round and quarter-final opponents, whereas the runner-up is in line to meet Argentina in the last eight, so if they are to top the section, Portugal will have to get something out of the Germany game.
As ever, Portugal will sit deep, slow the game down, and then hit fast on the counter. It’s a style of play that can result in some turgid displays, particularly against lesser teams, and an inability to score freely against inferior opposition often harms their chances.
But it is effective at frustrating the top teams, and with Ronaldo on the pitch, they can beat anyone. Whether they top Group G or not, I think their mixture of resolute defending and flashes of brilliance can take them deep into the tournament.
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