From no-hopers to world-beaters. The mood change has been as dramatic as it has swift. Only one week separated a performance against Cape Verde that had local hacks competing for the cleverest put-down to describe Queiroz, from a thoroughly uplifting dismissal of Cameroon in a friendly pencilled in as a dress rehearsal for Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ivory Coast.
Likewise, perusing the press reactions further afield, Portugal have gone from being summarily written off by large swathes of the international media, to having a sporting chance of pipping Drogba and company to the runners-up spot in Group G behind Brazil.
While it is pleasing to see a more realistic appraisal of Portugal’s hopes given the country’s tournament pedigree over the past decade – three semi-finals and one final – I can’t help feeling that an unmeasured build-up of optimism could prove disastrous.
Long live the underdog
The Selecção have always thrived in the position of the underdog (Euro 2000), even more so when completely written off (the Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 encounters against England and Holland spring to mind). On the other hand, it is precisely when most expect them to do well that Portugal have shown a depressing tendency to crumble. Portuguese fans still wince at the memory of the Euro 2004 final and the ill-fated 2002 World Cup campaign – two instances in which the team had been duped (or duped themselves) into thinking they had won their matches before the referee had blown the opening whistle.
Therefore, I am not one of the many Portugal fans demanding nothing less than a thumping goal fest in Portugal’s final warm-up match against Mozambique next week. Should that happen, coupled with a poor display by Ivory Coast in their final friendly against Japan, pundits worldwide will no doubt start backtracking, trumpeting the impending impact of Portugal’s brand of exhilarating football on the tournament and preparing Ivory Coast’s World Cup obituary.
If precedent is anything to go by, that could be Portugal’s worst possible preparation.
Having said all that…
It’s difficult not to get a wee bit excited about how things seem to be falling into place for Carlos Queiroz’s men. Ronaldo said a few days ago that “to do well in these tournaments you need 7 or 8 players to be on top of their game.” In Portugal’s 3-1 victory over Cameroon, we witnessed excellent individual performances from Eduardo, Carvalho, Ferreira, Fábio Coentrão, Deco, Pedro Mendes, Raúl Meireles and Nani.
But even more pleasing was the fact that one solid week of intensive training by the whole squad morphed the rabble of extravagantly talented individuals largely doing their own thing we saw one week earlier into a cohesive unit, playing as a team. The unselfish way in which Ronaldo laid on Nani’s goal and provided another sublime assist shortly afterwards was particularly pleasing.
Things are looking good. But don’t shout about it.