As discussed in my opening post, expectations regarding Portugal’s chances of going far in the 2010 World Cup are low, and will have plummeted further following the uninspiring 0-0 draw against Cape Verde on Monday.
However, being written off by the international and domestic press, not to mention their own fans, could just be the ideal preparation for the Selecção to cause a surprise… of Greece 2004 proportions. I offer you five compelling reasons why Portugal will excel in South Africa:
1. Fresh as daisies
How many times have we heard national team coaches lament the fact that their star players failed to perform at the world’s biggest football tournament because of exhaustion after a long hard season? A whole host of Portugal’s top names will not suffer from this problem. Cristiano Ronaldo, Danny, Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Pepe were all laid low for significant chunks of 2009/10, either due to injury, suspension or selection criteria, meaning there's plenty of running in them those legs. There is no doubting the talent and big game experience of this half dozen, and being able to call upon extra energy levels unavailable to many rival players will prove a significant advantage.
2. Form guide
So Portugal drew 0-0 with Cape Verde. An embarrassing result, granted, but anyone who saw the lackadaisical attitude adopted by the players and then listened to Carlos Queiroz’s explanation that he had instructed his players not to over-exert themselves will realise nothing can be read into what was essentially a light training exercise. The fact is Portugal have not tasted defeat since November 2008, a run that has seen the Selecção clock up 10 victories and 4 draws. Most of those victories came in must-win games when the team knew the slightest slip-up would have cost them their place in South Africa, so they have proved they can get the results in pressure situations.
3. Watertight defence
During that 14-match unbeaten run, Portugal have conceded the grand total of 2 goals. Yes, that’s right. Just TWO goals have got past Eduardo in 1,260 minutes of football. The Thou Shalt Not Pass triumvirate comprising Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves and Pepe have been ably backed up by something of a rarity in modern times in Portuguese football – a goalkeeper who inspires confidence in his defence, Eduardo.
4. Match-winners galore
Hence, few goals will be needed for Portugal to collect wins in South Africa. Just as well, given that finding the net has proved Portugal’s biggest difficulty since Carlos Queiroz took the reins. But fate has conspired to deliver Portugal’s considerable array of firepower at the peak of their abilities. Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani ended their club seasons in outstanding goalscoring form and both are perfectly capable of conjuring a goal out of nothing against the best of opposition. Zenit St Petersburg forward Danny has rediscovered the form that saw him destroy Manchester United in the 2008 European Super Cup, scoring goals and providing assists aplenty as the Russian season opened.
These are the players in form, but Deco has proved he can still mix it with the best, Liedson has one of the best strike rates in top-level football, and Bruno Alves and Pepe provide a potent threat in the air. With goals liable to come from so many areas of the field, Portugal will not fire blanks this World Cup.
5. It’s written in the stars
Mid-way through the qualification campaign Portugal’s hopes of making it to the World Cup appeared in tatters. The team had beaten only Malta and sat in fifth place in Group One, behind the likes of Albania, while Denmark, Hungary and Sweden seemed to be beyond reach. The next game was away in Albania. Just as a poor performance seemed to have put the final nail in Portugal’s World Cup coffin, Bruno Alves popped up to nod home a hopeful punt into the box and reignite the Selecção’s hopes.
Later, in Denmark, after outplaying the hosts, Portugal’s profligacy in front of the net again looked to have dashed their chances, before Liedson headed in a crucial equaliser five minutes from time. Even then, Portugal needed Sweden to drop points in Denmark, but again, results fell their way. An incredible resurrection act was all but complete, and confirmed by the classy manner in which Bosnia-Herzegovina were dispatched in the play-offs.
Fresh legs, good form, the stingiest of defences, game-changers galore and blessed by the Gods – It’s in the bag!