By Jason Le Miere
Eduardo took over as first choice during Portugal’s qualifying campaign and amassed an impressive record by only conceding two goals in eight matches. The 28-year-old keeper from Portuguese Liga runners-up Braga is a late bloomer at this level and will be under pressure in his first major tournament.
Normally known for their technical ability going forward, Portugal will also have some steel at the heart of their back line in South Africa. Ricardo Carvalho’s star maybe on the wane after an up-and-down season with Chelsea, but he still has the ability to be a thorn in the side of the world’s best strikers. Alongside Carvalho, Porto center back Bruno Alves has attracted interest from some of Europe’s top clubs and together they form an impressive partnership. At fullback, however, Portugal will be mourning the loss of one of Europe’s finest right backs in José Bosingwa, who has failed to recover in time from a long-term knee injury. Without the Chelsea man, Portugal will employ Miguel on the right of their defense. While once a first choice for his country, Miguel’s form has been indifferent of late and he can no longer be considered an automatic pick for club side Valencia. There are also doubts about the left back slot, with Duda, who is ordinarily a winger, better going forward than defending.
One man who has been passed fit is Real Madrid’s Pepe, who is somewhat of a surprise inclusion after being sidelined since last December with a serious knee injury. If he can regain his match sharpness, the center back by trade will continue in the holding midfield role that he performed so astutely in qualifying. For creativity in the midfield Portugal will again turn to Deco, in the hope that the Brazilian-born veteran can roll back the years before he retires from the international scene following the World Cup. Making up the three-man midfield will likely be the box-to-box Raul Meireles, who started every game in qualifying and netted twice in a pre-World Cup friendly victory over Cameroon.
Portugal’s success in South Africa is likely to rest on the performances of the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo. Things have
Photo from fOTOGLIF
not gone well for the Real Madrid winger in a Portugal shirt of late, however. “CR9” failed to score a single goal in qualifying and it was without him in the side that his country came through a playoff against Bosnia-Herzegovina to book their place in the finals. On the opposite flank, there is a toss-up between Simão and Nani. Both are capable of producing the spectacular, but suffer from a lack of consistency. Leading the line will be another naturalized Brazilian, Liédson, who had his Portuguese citizenship fast-tracked to enable him to aid the side’s ailing qualifying campaign. He has since justified this treatment; scoring crucial goals in the qualifiers against Denmark and Hungary.
Currently in his second stint in charge of his nation, Carlos Queiroz has recovered somewhat after an appalling start to Portugal’s qualifying campaign that left his job hanging by a thread. The opinion still persists, however, that the former Manchester United assistant manager’s tactical nous may be better suited to working behind the scenes, rather than as a leader. At least one thing that Queiroz has going for him this summer, though, is local knowledge. The Mozambique-born 57-year-old coached the South Africa team to qualification for the 2002 World Cup.
World Cup Prediction
The World Cup draw certainly did Portugal no favors as they fell into what was immediately hailed as the “group of death,” alongside Brazil, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. With Brazil overwhelming favorites to top the group, Portugal’s chances of progress will likely be decided by their opening game against the Ivory Coast. But even if they come through that test and progress through the group, things do not get any easier from there for the Portuguese. Likely awaiting them in the second round will be neighbors and World Cup favorites Spain. It is there that Portugal’s time in South Africa will come to an end.