Team Profile: Portugal
Going into a major tournament, everyone loves to talk about a dark horse for the title. At Euro 2012, you’d be hard pressed to find a darker (or more over tanned) horse than Portugal. A nation that is brimming with flair and quality in most areas of the pitch, they have unfortunately been given an absolute stinker of a draw in the group stages, up against the much fancied Germans, the extremely strong Netherlands, and Denmark to whom Portugal came 2nd to in their qualification group.
To even get out of the group will be a challenge, but Portugal on paper certainly have the players to achieve the task. Clearly the focus will be on a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. With Ronaldo in the team, Portugal are guaranteed a goal threat, a bit of flair, or a Blackadder style “here are my genitals, please kick them” stance when taking a free kick. Ronaldo, like a lot of world class players, has often found it hard to replicate his outstanding club form for the national team; however under new boss Paulo Bento, he has apparently found the team more centered around him and has started to perform to his usual high (and dramatic) standards.
Through the squad there are many names that will be familiar to the casual football fan. Manchester United’s Nani is likely to be in the starting 11 and although he lost his place in the Manchester United team to Antonio Valencia for most of the season, he is still a threat. Portugal’s midfield features Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho and former Newcastle flop Hugo Viana, plus at the back the Real Madrid pair of Pepe and Fabio Coentrao will add big game and title winning experience (as well as an almost certain red card/GBH charge for Pepe). It’ll also be worth keeping an eye on 20 year old striker Nelson Oliveira – anyone who has played Football Manager in the last 3 years will know he’ll be spanking in Champions League Final hat-tricks come 2017 (maybe not for Huddersfield Town though).
What Portugal seem to lack is any kind of stability. They are a team who have always seemed to have had a crazy goalkeeper (much like the African teams of the 90’s always had), and even though they do have Ronaldo, they have lacked an out and out striker for the last 10 or so years. After the loss of Pauleta, they have somehow survived on the “goals” of Tottenham legend Helder Postiga, someone who once again will be terrorizing defences in Poland/Ukraine. Put together these two problems with a talented yet still leaky defence, and you can see Van Persie and Gomez having a field day.
So how far can Portugal go? Unfortunately, this has kind of been made up for them already. On paper, they don’t stack up against Germany and the Netherlands, which means that getting out of the group will prove difficult and I fear, unachievable. They have Germany up first and a loss in the first game could prove fatal. To be fair, it’ll be a brave person who backs Portugal to get out of the group, and if they do it’ll be more likely due to a capitulation by Germany or the Netherlands than a supreme Portuguese display. But let’s not forget, they have the best player in Europe in their team. Ronaldo + the group of death = Portugal as the ultimate dark horse. Now I’m off to set fire to a £10 note, otherwise known as betting on Postiga to be top scorer.
STAR PLAYER: Cristiano Ronaldo
FINISHING POSITION: Group stage