Looking at the cold statistics, you have to surmise that while it fell way short of the glorious runs to the semi-finals in 1966 and 2006, it was far more respectable than the embarrassing disasters of 1986 and 2002. Of Portugal’s five World Cup appearances to date, this year’s effort sits squarely in the middle.
Transitional period or lost opportunity?
I suspect the definitive opinion about the success of this tournament will depend on what happens in the near future. Carlos Queiroz has never tired, with some justification, of pointing out the difficulties he encountered when taking over from Luiz Felipe Scolari. A glut of trusted performers such as Luis Figo, Pauleta, Costinha, Nuno Valente and Maniche had not been adequately replaced. The former Manchester United assistant had to contend with injuries to key players throughout his time in charge, not least when it mattered most as José Bosingwa and Nani were unable to contribute in South Africa and Pepe was not match fit.
On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s greatest players, was fully fit and raring to go having come off the back of a season proving he was at the peak of his abilities. The wonderful Ricardo Carvalho again oozed class all tournament, while left-back Fábio Coentrão and goalkeeper Eduardo were genuine revelations and among the very best players in their respective positions in the whole tournament.
The abject failure to put anything resembling Cristiano Ronaldo’s best form at the service of the Selecção was without doubt the biggest disappointment for Portuguese fans. It is ironic that the former World Player of the Year enjoyed the finest season of his career under the tutorship of Queiroz (albeit as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson), yet as national team coach the studious Portugal manager has patently failed to come up with a system to enable Ronaldo to reproduce his exhilarating club form for his country.
Don’t let the UK-dominated media undercurrent of Ronaldo hatred, suggesting he was more interested in preening his image than performing for his country, fool you. Nobody wanted more or tried more to succeed at this World Cup than Cristiano Ronaldo. But given Queiroz’s tactics against Spain, which seemed to consist of putting all emphasis on defence, implementing an attacking ploy that largely consisted of humping the ball in the general direction of an isolated Ronaldo and see what happened, it was hardly surprising the Real Madrid man vented his frustration with an inelegant and angry “Ask Queiroz” response to a pitch-side journalist’s question about what had gone wrong against Spain.
How to glean the best out of Ronaldo in a Portugal shirt remains Carlos Queiroz’s biggest dilemma, and he is intelligent enough to recognise that solving this conundrum is of the utmost importance. Should he do so, Queiroz still has a chance to prove the doubters wrong.
He would appear to be the right man to successfully integrate the emerging talents of Ruben Micael, Silvestre Varela and Daniel Carriço into the team. Add those to the “finds” of Coentrão and Eduardo, a fit-again Nani and Bosingwa, and a Ronaldo firing on all cylinders, and there is no doubt Portugal have the makings of a more than interesting side. The 2010 World Cup campaign could yet be looked back upon as the moment the first building blocks were laid for a second successive golden decade for Portuguese football.
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