Portugal - What to expect at World Cup 2014
Portugal travel to Brazil with the hope of bringing home their first ever World Cup trophy. They will enter the tournament as dark horses but with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the side, there is always belief that the impossible can be achieved. Once again they are in a “Group of Death” which comprises of Germany, Ghana and United States but they will take confidence in progressing from a similar setting back in 2010 and the Euros in 2012. Time and again, they have shown strength and character to manoeuvre past tight situations in big games specially in qualifying whilst complacency has often proved their undoing against lesser sides.
Coach Paulo Bento is a strong advocate of the 4-3-3 formation and has largely found success with the formula over the past couple of years. He has tried a few variants in recent friendlies but their blueprint will largely be based on maintaining a fine balance between defensive and attacking duties depending on nature of the opponents and situations during games.
The key threat will come from the wide areas where the overlapping fullbacks will look to support their talented wingers as they establish a route to goal. The central defenders complement each other well and generally pull together on the main stage despite all the sloppiness on show during qualification and friendlies. Lack of a quality striker will continue to be Portugal’s achilles heel but they will look to compensate via good service from Moutinho and the allround ability of Ronaldo.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo has long put to rest baseless suggestions that he does not turn up for the big games. He has grown in stature and matured as the years have worn on, his contribution to Portugal’s campaign has been nothing short of scintillating recently as he scored a hat trick against Sweden in the playoffs and in the process overtook Pauleta's record of 47 to become Portugal's all time leading scorer.
He will carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders and a World Cup winner’s medal would be the icing on the cake on a glittering career but for this to happen, those around him will have to play the role of supporting cast to perfection.
One to Watch: William Carvalho
Sporting youngster William Carvalho has had a meteoric rise to fame this past season, the 22 year old attracting interest from a host of Premier League sides and often being described as the next ‘Patrick Vieira’. He combines his physical prowess with some clean tackling and reads the game beautifully. He has the ability to play some lovely vertical passes from deep areas and is quite a handful in the box from set pieces.
His introduction against Sweden in the playoffs proved to be a masterstroke as he brought about calm on the field just as the game and a spot in the World Cup was threatening to drift dangerously. Many believe he should start as the deepest lying midfielder for Portugal but coach Paulo Bento rarely deviates from his tried and tested combination, so his role could be a limited yet important one to see them through in periods of maximum pressure.
The coach: Paulo Bento
Coach Paulo Bento recently had his contract renewed to until the end of Euro 2016 as a show of faith in his abilities. There’s a split house on his reputation with critics faulting his rigid tactical system and failure to bring in new blood whilst his backers argue that he’s managed to get the best out of star man Ronaldo and fostered a strong spirit within the side.