The Portuguese national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in stunning fashion, winning 4-2 on aggregate over two legs against Sweden. The two-legged tie was hailed as a battle of giants as Christiano Ronaldo was pitted against Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ronaldo’s side prevailed and he in particular made a statement on a national level, as he scored all of Portugal’s goals.
This dominant performance prompted Portugal to rise nine spots to fifth place in the latest FIFA rankings. Dominant performance or not, is Portugal truly fifth best in the world?
To begin with, Portugal finished second in their World Cup qualifying group that they probably should have topped. While Israel is a good team, the only real threat was Russia, who finished in first place. In comparison, Russia is 22nd in the world.
To put this in even better perspective, aside from Russia, Portugal is above all European group leaders except for Spain and Germany. That includes Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.
One must also look at players. Before Ronaldo went off for four goals, Portugal was ranked fourteenth in the world. They do have players who can contribute goals, but can they in games that count? Take the Euros 2012, for example. Of the six goals Portugal scored, Ronaldo scored three, and was the only one to score in the knockout rounds.
Players such as Nani, Helder Postiga and Silvestre Varela contributed during the World Cup qualification group stage, but were fairly absent in the playoffs.
Portugal seems to have benefited from being the best team in the most exciting game of the last few national breaks. Have they been overly dominant? No. Have they done enough to win? Yes. Do they have the most in-form player in the world stepping up at the right time? Absolutely.
While the FIFA rankings do not count for much, it demonstrates a flavor-of-the-week mentality that could factor in when this summer rolls around.