2014 World Cup Preview: Portugal
A legend of the game looks to ascend to glory and capture the crown jewel that has eluded him so far, but can the world’s greatest player and Portugal front-man overcome injuries and a lack of talent around him to nab the final piece to the puzzle that would make him the king of kings in the sport’s history?
Portugal does not have the pedigree of other European teams, but it does have a decent track record at the World Cup reaching the semifinals two out of the five times the country has made it to the tournament. As the country continues to try and build their World Cup resume, Cristiano Ronaldo looks to cement his legacy as the greatest footballer ever on the game’s biggest stage.
Portugal’s qualifying effort was quite pedestrian as the side fell to Russia in the group stage and had to endure a continental playoff just to have a chance of making a return trip to the World Cup. But as it turned out the playoff against Sweden might have been a blessing in disguise.
Portugal ultimately sunk Sweden behind a heroic performance by Ronaldo as he netted a hat-trick in the game that sent the Portuguese to the World Cup Finals. Portugal had to work to earn its tournament berth but proved they can be one of the best teams in the world when Ronaldo is on top of his game.
There is no doubt who the leader of this side is and the fact that the team will only go as far as he carries them is a given. But several other players will have to step up and make cameos if this team is truly going to go all the way.
One of the players who has to be a difference maker is Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao. Coentrao is one of the best defensive players in the world at the moment, and in addition to his lockdown defending, he possesses an attacking mindset and fiery attitude that makes him lethal at both ends of the pitch.
Another player who must play a role at the World Cup is the Manchester United forward who complements Ronaldo’s play in the final third. Nani serves as Ronaldo’s strike partner and can produce goals in droves if he gets hot.
While Portugal’s World Cup draw might look a bit dicey, it may not be as bad as what it appears at first glance. In a group with Germany, Ghana and the United States, Portugal will likely find the tempo to their liking as both Ghana and the United States like to play an up and down game which fits right into the Portuguese’s wheelhouse. While Germany’s defense may seem impermeable, the other two sides possesses a defense that has more holes than Swiss cheese which could enable Ronaldo and Nani to have a field day.
There seems to be no middle ground on people’s take of Portugal. People see them as either overrated or underrated, and much of this perception is how each individual views Ronaldo. If Portugal falls in one of the earlier rounds, the criticism will fall solely on Ronaldo, but if the team goes far he will likely deserve the bulk of the credit.
Portugal is a team that thrives under the pressure, and in the knockout stages they will embrace a back against the wall mentality. Portugal has what it takes to beat a Belgium and Argentina to advance to the semifinal, but it will come up short to a team that has more firepower in Spain.
Greg Douglas is a soccer writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on twitter @thegpd93 or add him to your Google Network.