Portugal’s group at Euro 2012 comprises three of the top five ranked countries in the World. The other team, Denmark, are ranked 10th and have got the better of the Selecção in the last two qualifying campaigns. Portugal have won none of their last three matches, scoring just once. The final friendly before the tournament resulted in a 3-1 defeat in Lisbon against Turkey on Saturday, in a match where Paulo Bento’s team were booed off the pitch by their own fans for the second time in eight days.
And here I am saying Portugal can win the Euro. Too much Portuguese sun? Perhaps. Perhaps not. For each and every one of the aforementioned negative portents, there are at least as many reasons why Portugal can go into the tournament in a positive frame of mind. Here are five justifications as to why the Portuguese can surprise the world.
1) No pressure
Reading and listening to football experts, pundits and disinterested fans over the past fortnight or so and it is abundantly clear that 95% of them believe Germany and Holland will be the two teams making progress to the quarter-finals from Group B. Portugal enjoyed a golden decade in the noughties, qualifying for every major tournament, reaching two semi-finals and one final, but conventional wisdom says this Portugal team is substantially inferior to its recent predecessors. It’s a view I dispute. More of that in nos. 2 and 3. But one thing is absolutely certain. Expectations are at their lowest ebb for ten years. If Portugal fail to qualify it will not be a surprise and recriminations will be minimal. So NO PRESSURE at all.
2) Devastating flank attack, underrated midfield duo
Portugal possess arguably the two most potent wingers in the world. And in Fábio Coentrão and João Pereira, they also possess two attacking full-backs with the ability to provide devastating support down the channels in their own right. With Ronaldo-Coentrão on the left, and Nani-Pereira on the right, the threat coming from Portugal’s flanks is potentially destructive and multi-faceted. Any defence will be presented with a huge task to nullify it.
In João Moutinho and Raul Meireles Portugal have two of Europe’s most underrated midfielders, who have formed a superbly efficient partnership in the middle of the pitch since Paulo Bento became Portugal coach in September 2010. Both are tremendously hard-working, highly intelligent and play with metronomic consistency. They may be unspectacular, but their fast passing, fast thinking and dynamic style is perfectly suited to Bento’s philosophy, based on possession and transporting the ball quickly.
3) Getting the best out of Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo endured a frustrating and unhappy time for Portugal under the ultra-defensive tactics of Carlos Queiroz, scoring just one goal in that two-year period. In contrast, Queiroz’s successor, Paulo Bento, who was a team-mate of Ronaldo’s at Sporting in the twilight of his career, has got the very best out of the Real Madrid man. Ronaldo has reproduced his breathtaking club form on a frequent basis for Portugal over the last 20 months, scoring 9 goals in 14 games. Even more pleasing, the captain has been linking up well with team-mates, providing assists and is much more willing to share the attacking burden rather than trying to do it all alone.
4) All present and correct
Although the coach did little to help himself, Carlos Queiroz can justifiably point to terrible luck with injuries that severely depleted Portugal at the 2010 World Cup. Nani got injured just before the tournament, Pepe had rushed back from months out due to knee ligament problems and was clearly unfit and José Bosingwa also missed out on South Africa because of knee problems. Portugal has been blessed with 5 or 6 world-class performers in most of their teams over the last decade. 2010 was no exception. Losing half of them to injury was too big a hurdle to overcome.
Thankfully, this time round it appears all of Portugal’s cream of the crop - Ronaldo, Nani, Moutinho, Coentrão, Pepe - are fighting fit and champing at the bit to further enhance their reputations.
5) History on Portugal’s side
- Portugal have appeared in five European Championships before this one. They have never failed to get beyond the group phase.
- Portugal have played Holland ten times in total, winning six, drawing three and losing just once. In competitive games the record is W4 D1 L1 and in tournament finals it’s two wins out of two.
- Against Denmark the balance is also highly positive. In 13 encounters Portugal have won 8 drawn two and lost three.
- Against Germany the head to head history is less encouraging, with stats of W3 D5 L8 in 16 games. However, take away the friendlies, and in competitive matches Portugal have proven a tough nut to crack for the Germans. In eight matches the Selecção have won twice, drawn three times and lost three times.
Well, I’ve convinced myself. Have I convinced you? I really must remember to buy a hat and that sun block today...
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