Euro 2012 Preview: Portugal
2004 tournament hosts and runners-up Portugal are in the Euros having had to do it the hard way and qualify through the play-offs. Having lost in the 2004 final with the supposed “Golden Generation” of players which included Luis Figo, Rui Costa and all-time leading goal scorer Pauleta to shock winners Greece, Portuguese football has been on the decline with the hopes of a nation all resting on one player: Cristiano Ronaldo.
How Did They Qualify?
Portugal were drawn into Group H alongside Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Cyprus. Many saw Portugal as the group winners, and a guaranteed place in Poland/Ukraine. However, it did not all go to plan. The first group game was against Cyprus, and it took three minutes for plans to go awry. Having to claw back into the game twice early on, Portugal then lead the game twice late on, only for an 89th minute Avram goal to bring the scores level and a surprise point for the Cypriots.
A 1-0 loss away from home to Norway was another game where they should have put up a fight, and it was not looking good going into the third game against group challengers Denmark.Portugal got their campaign back on track with a 3-1 win in Porto. With four consecutive wins against Iceland (3-1),Norway (1-0),Cyprus (4-0) and Iceland again (5-3), it came down to the final group game against Denmark to see who would win Group H. A 2-1 loss in Copenhagen put Portugal in the play-offs against surprise package Bosnia &Herzegovina. A 0-0 draw in Zenica left Portugal having to win in Lisbon to book their place, and they did so in great fashion. A 6-2 win put the Portuguese through and into the group stages of Euro 2012.
Portugal had two managers during their qualifying campaign. Former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz was due to lead the team into the qualifying stages. Quieroz blocked a doping test for the team prior to the 2010 World Cup, and directed a tirade of abuse at the doping testers. Due to this, he received a six month suspension from the national side, and was unable to pick the team for the opening two qualifiers. Due to the results of those games, Queiroz released some very public outbursts against the Portuguese FA, which then prompted them to remove him from his position. Former Sporting CP manager Paulo Bento took charge for the Danish game and masterminded a 4-0 win over their Iberian cousins Spain in a friendly, and will lead the team in the championships.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 27 – Wherever he likes
One of the world’s greatest players and captain of the national side, he will need to produce the goals for the team. Since his £80 million move to Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2009, his scoring record is phenomenal with 112 goals in 101 appearances. He is also joint third with Luis Figo in the all time scorer charts for Portugal, only 15 goals behind Pauleta. With five goals in qualification, Ronaldo will need to produce it on the big stage for his team to stand a chance.
Luis Nani -25 – Winger
Since Ronaldo left Manchester United in 2009, Nani needed to step up to take over, and after an indifferent start he has cemented his place as an important cog for both club and country. Chipping in with four goals in the qualifying games, he will need to be on fine form through the tournament to help out Ronaldo.
Fabio Coentrão – 23 – Left Back
One of the stars of Portugal’s 2010 World Cup. Starting every match, he has been a revelation since coming into the team. Being in blistering form in the Portuguese Supa Liga, he was able to get a move in July 2011 to Real Madrid for 30 million euros. One of the most exciting left-backs in Europe, he will need to concentrate on defence as well as his undoubted attacking skills to help Portugal progress through to the quarter finals.
João Moutinho – 25 – Midfielder
Quickly establishing himself as an important player for Sporting CP at the tender age of 17, he was ever present in the first team until his controversial move to bitter rivals FC Porto. Having been in and out of the national squad since the age of 18, at 25 he is not one of the most important figures there but his experience and tenacious midfield displays will be very important to help bully opponents to fear the Portuguese.
Pereira Pepe Alves Coentrão
How Far Can They Go?
The Portuguese have a great team. They have a consistent record in competitions; however, they seem to fall apart when they come up against better opposition. Playing against Germany and Holland in the group stages is a kick in the teeth for them. Their own fate lies in how well they get on against these two European power houses.