Tactical preview

Euro 2012 Tactics - Portugal

ESPN's look at the plans of Portugal this summer

Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Paulo Bento has one of the best players in thr world© PA Photos

The Manager - Paulo Bento

Portugal's 42-year-old head coach will not want to be reminded of the last time he was involved in the finals of the European Championships.

A defensive midfielder for the 'Seleccao' at the 2000 edition in the Low Countries, Bento was one of a number of Portuguese players who violently raged at officials after France were awarded a late winning penalty in a closely-fought semi-final. He was later handed a five-month international ban for his pains.

On hanging up his boots four years later, Bento turned to coaching and following a reasonably successful four-year stint at the helm of Sporting Lisbon, was appointed to succeed the ill-fated Carlos Queiroz as national team coach in the autumn of 2010.

With just one point from their opening two qualifiers, Portugal were in a shambolic state and though Bento was not exactly greeted with open arms by the local media - who believed he was just as dull and negative as Queiroz - the new man turned out to be much better than anyone imagined, not only leading Portugal to Euro 2012 qualification via the play-offs but getting them to play with enterprise and style.

A confirmed disciplinarian, Bento rules with an iron fist and it was no surprise at all that he spectacularly fell out with established national team defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa, vowing the pair would never play for him again. Some say the Portugal coach cannot think outside the box, but at least he does not stand idly by when all is not going to plan.

The Captain - Cristiano Ronaldo

As one of the most talented and highest profile players in the world, Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo was always a shoe-in to be made national team skipper, yet status alone does not an influential field general make and it's often been argued that he is totally unsuited to the job, sidetracked by his full-on individualism and huge ego.

He may have the absolute respect of his team-mates, is proud of the armband and takes its responsibilities seriously, but by no stretch of the imagination could Cristiano be described as a true grit leader, someone to rally around when a new strategy is required.

Up to now, he has rarely translated his brilliant work at club level to the international stage and in the opinion of many, the captaincy is one the reasons why, perhaps encouraging him to try too hard.

The Formation

Although Paulo Bento religiously stuck to an orthodox 4-4-2 during his time at Sporting Lisbon, he has never used that system with Portugal, wisely concluding that he simply does not have the players to make it function. Instead he has, for the most part, kept faith with Quieroz's 4-3-3 and bearing in mind Portugal's lack of top-grade strikers and abundance of class on the wing and in midfield, the respect for continuity makes perfect sense.

Not that Bento only has one string to his bow. Whereas he normally is happy to have a midfield with no genuine holder, he did employ a 4-1-2-3 (with Miguel Veloso in the enforcer role) in the first-leg of the play-offs against Bosnia (0-0) and went with a 4-2-1-3 in a qualifying win in Iceland, a formation featuring Joao Moutinho as the playmaker and Carlos Martins and Raul Meireles on sentry duty in front of the back-line.

Other variations involve Cristiano Ronaldo, either switching from out wide to the point of attack or deploying him in the ‘hole' in a 4-3-1-2.

The Weak Spot

Portugal have suffered with the same chronic ailment for years - a dearth of high quality strikers and none of the current batch (Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida or the raw Benfica youngster Nelson Oliveira) are remotely good enough. That there was talk of a recall for 35-year-old Braga front-man Nuno Gomes speaks volumes. As it is, Gomes will not be in Ukraine.

At the back the 'Seleccao' have a number of problems, notably the sub-standard defending of Real Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao and the tendency for centre-backs Pepe and Bruno Alves to lose their composure and make reckless challenges. Red cards and suspensions are no stranger to this pair.

Equally worrying is the lack of variety in the middle of the field, a sector full of neatness and box-to-box energy but lacking in real playmaking magic. Unfortunately for Bento, the days of Deco or Rui Costa are long gone.

Injury Nightmare

While by no means guaranteed to turn on the style for the national team, wing wizards extraordinaire Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani still represent Portugal's best chance of making any sort of impact at euro 2012.

Their pace and guile on the flanks can be devastating and what's more both have the ability to drift menacingly into the centre in support of the lone striker. Neutralising one is hard enough; two is a journey straight to hell. Second-stringers such as Ricardo Quaresma, Vierinha and Silvestre Varela all have much to offer, but clearly Portugal would not carry nearly as much as threat.

The Young Gun - Nelson Oliveira

Paulo Bento has been bold in his final 23-man Euro 2012 squad, including a glut of attacking talent, though the critics will argue that is because he is struggling to find a player equipped to carry out the striking role effectively.

At the age of 20, Benfica striker Oliveira is very much a novice on the international stage and only made his senior debut back in February, but as an impact player of the bench, he offers an effervescence that could make him a threat this summer.

"There will be pressure on me to perform at Euro 2012, but I look forward to that," said Oliveira. "We have many strikers in this squad, but I feel ready to make an impact. This is a moment I have worked so hard for."

What they Say

“I'm confident Portugal will get out of this really difficult group for two reasons. The good sense and decision-making of Paulo Bento as coach and the idea that suddenly we're outsiders behind Germany and Holland. We can approach this tournament with less pressure and that is just what Cristiano Ronaldo needs right now.” Ex-Portugal and FC Porto manager Artur Jorge

The Verdict

Portugal's midfield craft and explosive wing-play may not be enough. They are defensively vulnerable and coach Bento's taskmaster ways may result in rebellion.


© ESPN

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