What else do Portugal have to offer behind Ronaldo’s shadow?
Cristiano Ronaldo helped his country through to the World Cup finals in Brazil after scoring all four goals in Portugal’s 4-2 aggregate victory over Sweden in the Play-offs. However, there is much more to Paulo Bento’s side than meets the eye.
Whilst captain Ronaldo (14/1 to win the tournament Golden Boot) has always been happy to receive all the attention, football fans forget that behind the nation’s top goalscorer (on 49 from 110 appearances) there is a very talented group of players.
Portugal, currently ranked fourth in the FIFA rankings, are 11th-equal favourites – along with Chile and the Netherlands – to win their first World Cup at 33/1.
In their Group F World Cup Qualifiers, it was Helder Postiga who top scored for Portugal, with six in nine appearances, and the on-loan Lazio striker is priced at 66/1 to win the Golden Boot this summer. The 31-year-old started in all those games, and looks set to be first choice centre forward for their opening tournament game against Germany on June 16th.
Postiga will be challenged for the lone striker position by fellow half centurion Hugo Almeida, who featured in half of Portugal’s World Cup qualifying campaign. The big target man has 14 goals in 26 games this season for Turkish club Besiktas.
In Paulo Bento’s three-man midfield, it looks certain that Monaco playmaker Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso will be in the XI. The former Sporting Lisbon youth graduates, both 27, know each other extremely well, and they started in all 12 qualifiers (10 in Group F and both play-off matches).
Raul Meireles is likely to make up the third midfield spot, having played in all the qualifying games when fit (eight in total). The former Liverpool and Chelsea man had has had an injury hit season for current club Fenerbahce, but is back and played regularly for the past couple of months.
The right wing position seems to be the toughest choice for Bento to decide on. Of course Ronaldo will take the left side, but the likes of Silvestre Varela, Nani and possibly even in-from Ricardo Quaresma will be vying for one position. There is the possibility that Ronaldo could play up front on his own, but judging by recent line-ups, that is unlikely.
Manchester United’s Nani has endured a torrid time the past two seasons for his club. He has featured in just 19 Premier League matches over that period, largely due to hamstring problems, but he did manage to somehow time his injuries right and take part in all but two of his country’s qualifiers.
Forgotten man Quaresma, who hasn’t played for Portugal in just under two years, has made a fantastic return to form since joining Porto in January, after playing out in Dubai for Al Ahli Club. The former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea player has managed an impressive nine goals from 18 games in all competitions since his return to Portugal.
Quaresma’s club teammate Varela, however, looks set to win the race following his consistent and mainly injury-free season. Another former Sporting product, along with Quaresma, he took part in seven on Bento’s World Cup qualifying squads – scoring twice.
In defence, the back four are almost certainly set to be – from right to left – Joao Pereira, Pepe and Bruno Alves (prolific in Qualifying with four goals in eight) and Fabio Coentrao. The quartet played in 10 qualifiers apiece and have a wealth of experience, with 204 international caps between them.
The goalkeeper spot is also an almost certainty, as Sporting stopper Rui Patricio wore the number one jersey for the country in all 12 qualifiers. Braga’s Eduardo is the likely backup.
Portugal face a tough task of getting through Group G in the World Cup, as they have been pooled with tournament third-favourites Germany (11/2), as well as the USA and Ghana.
They are odds-on, however, to qualify to the last 16 – the stage they were knocked out in the last tournament in South Africa – and are priced at 11/4 to top the group.