This year’s version of the always strong Portuguese side will be quite different compared to their teams of year’s past. Gone is the famous ‘Golden Generation’ in the sport which propelled the small nation to a Euro 2004 final, and a World Cup semi-final in 2006. South Africa will usher in a new wave of youthful Portuguese talent intent on making their mark on a nation steeped in rich soccer tradition. Although they drew a difficult group, like always the Portuguese will expect to advance out of Group G, with their main adversaries surely to be the favored Brazilians, and an upstart team from the Ivory Coast.
Surprisingly Portugal has only qualified for the World Cup four times in their history, albeit they’ve advanced to the semi-finals in two of those appearances. Most recently in Germany in 2006, where they finished with a promising fourth-place result after losing the consolation match in a tough atmosphere to the host German side. Coincidentally, it was this same roster from Germany, which ended their title aspirations two years later in Switzerland at the European championships. The Portuguese will look to avenge these tough losses, and hope it translates to the country’s first ever worldwide title on the sport’s grandest stage.
On a more recent note, a more youthful Portuguese side has brought some unexpected troubles to the nation’s soccer program. They failed to win their European qualifying group having been defeated by Denmark, and even suffered a humiliating draw to Albania in the process. Their poor performance in the round-robin format forced Portugal against hungry Bosnian side in a last-ditch attempt at punching their ticket to South Africa. In two narrow victories, the Portuguese eventually qualified for this year’s tournament, taking a much harder route than many would’ve initially imagined. In the lead-up to South Africa, Portugal has continued in its inconsistent play. When this side is on, they can defeat anybody in the world, as was shown in their recent 3-1 defeat over a strong Cameroon squad. Conversely, this team also suffered a laughable result against the 117th ranked nation, Cape Verde, being held to a scoreless draw. Although Portgual possesses undisputable talent, their mentality and performance must be consistent to advance past the group stage in South Africa.
Portugal always brings an exciting blend of talent and determination to these soccer exhibitions, and the 2010 World Cup will surely be no different. Look for this year’s Portugal side to display great team unity and a solid defensive game, two key elements to their delayed qualification. After a couple of sub-par performances early on, the Ricardo Carvalho-led defense rebounded to only allow two goals in their final ten matches. One thing will be for certain, the adversity Portugal will face in South Africa will be nothing new to them after such a hectic qualification campaign. Their coach Carlos Queroz, a longtime sidekick of the renowned Sir Alex Ferguson, will likely employ a 4-4-1-1 formation giving their star player, Cristiano Ronaldo freedom to roam around the pitch creating opportunities and producing for a recently goal-starved attack. They will have world-class strength on the wings coming from Manchester United’s Nani, and the experienced Simao. Midfielder Deco is still around and will be expected to provide nifty passes for the likes of Ronaldo and capable strikes Liedson and Hugo Almeido. Their strength in the middle will be further solidified through the recent injury news of Pepe, who should be a star in a holding role for the team.
Despite possessing one of the world’s most gifted offensive talents in Cristiano Ronaldo, it is no secret that this team has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. With this, expectations are much lower than usual in Portugal, and the incredibly tough group draw won’t help the matter. Moreover, many within Portugal disapprove of Coach Queiroz and feel that he is incapable of leading his nation to World Cup glory. The fans disagree about the utilization of the talented Ronaldo, who he favors in a central role, opposed to his niche on the wing where he has always been lethal. Perhaps these low expectations, and internal dissension will bring out the best for the Portuguese this time around in South Africa, silencing the critics around the soccer world. For this to occur, they must dispel the notion that they are a one-man team, and that they in fact do possess talent beyond Ronaldo. The supporting cast, mainly Nani, Simao, and Liedson must produce offensively and make the job on the likes of Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, and Ronaldo much easier.
The Portuguese will bring plenty of flair to their games in South Africa, yet they will require plenty of finish for this World Cup to deemed a successful one. Being placed in this year’s ‘Group of Death’ means one of Brazil, Ivory Coast, or Portugal will not advance past the group stage, which would be a hugely disappointing result for one of these sides. I expect the Portuguese to quickly forget about their tumultuous qualifying campaign, and poor lead-up to South Africa and begin playing to their strengths and talents. Queiroz is an excellent coach and will give his side every opportunity to be successful throughout the tournament. I expect Portugal to develop the goal-scoring habits at the right time and propel them to a second-place finish in Group G. They key fixture in their World Cup campaign will be the very first match against their main competition from the Ivory Coast. It is essential to at least gain a point, and if they fail to do so, they might as well begin packing their bags. That said, should they advance it would set up an intriguing second-round matchup to co-favorites and border rivals Spain. Unfortunately for Portugal this is where I see their quest ending in South Africa. Although they possess bundles of talent, their recent form, countless doubts, and an incredibly tough path to victory, makes an entrance to the final eight highly unlikely.
Portugal World Cup Prediction: Second-Round Exit (Lose To Spain)
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