The odds are stacked against Portugal in their fifth consecutive Euro participation, as the 2004 runners-up were drawn into the group of death alongside Germany, Holland (two of the top three favorites for the tournament) and Portugal’s bête noire in recent times: Denmark.
It was a tough road to get to the Euro 2012 and it isn’t about to get any easier.
Portugal’s Road to the Euro 2012
Portugal’s qualifying path was a very bumpy one. Things couldn’t have started any worse: amid all the internal turmoil surrounding the then manager Carlos Queirós’s disciplinary case, Portugal only collected one point from their first two matches, losing 1-0 in Norway and bizarrely drawing 4-4 at home against Cyprus. With only six matches left, things looked quite bleak for the Portuguese.
But the appointment of Paulo Bento completely changed the fortunes of Portugal. In Bento’s first match at the helm, Portugal beat Denmark 3-1 at home, with a dominating performance and with Nani and Ronaldo on the score sheet. The momentum was carried to the following matches, with Portugal winning 4-0 in Cyprus, beating Iceland home and away and narrowly beating Norway 1-0 at home to set up a decisive clash against Denmark in Copenhagen on the last day.
A draw or win over the Danish would send Portugal to the Euros, while a defeat would send them to the playoffs. Denmark thoroughly outplayed Portugal and won 2-1, with Cristiano Ronaldo getting a consolation goal in additional time. The comeback under Paulo Bento wasn’t enough to secure direct qualification, but it was enough to set another playoff showdown with Bosnia (like in the World Cup 2010 qualifiers).
After a 0-0 draw in Sarajevo, Portugal put on one of their best performances in recent memory to beat Bosnia 6-2 at home, although most goals came with the Bosnians down to 10 men, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and co. in spectacular form. Despite the difficult path, Portugal ended up qualifying for the Euro for the fifth consecutive time.
Squad and Tactics
Ever since he took over, Paulo Bento has opted for a tried and tested 4-3-3 system, with three midfielders with good passing skills and trusting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Nani to wreak havoc down the wings. That should also be his preferred formation for the Euro.
In a recent friendly against Macedonia, Paulo Bento tried Nani as an attacking midfielder, which might be a possible solution, although not a very probable one.
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting CP), Eduardo (SL Benfica) and Beto (CFR Club)
Although Eduardo was the starter during the World Cup 2010, Rui Patricio has taken over his position and he shall be the starter during the Euro 2012 and for the foreseeable future as well. The Sporting keeper has established himself as one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe, attracting the interest of many giant clubs, and he will most definitely be the one guarding Portugal’s goal, although both Eduardo and Beto are more than adequate backups.
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Zenit), Pepe (Real Madrid CF), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid CF), João Pereira (Valencia CF), Rolando (FC Porto), Ricardo Costa (Valencia CF) and Miguel Lopes (SC Braga)
There are not many doubts in this sector either. Due to a conflict with Paulo Bento back in the end of 2011, Ricardo Carvalho hasn’t been called up, which means that Pepe and Bruno Alves should form the center back duo, as they used to when they both played for Porto. Paulo Bento will surely opt for that tried and tested formula.
The full-backs don’t seem in much doubt either, with Fábio Coentrão a more than likely starter on the left and João Pereira, recently transferred from Sporting to Valencia, on the right.
Depth isn’t an issue either, with Rolando, Miguel Lopes and Ricardo Costa all being quality options.
Midfield: Raul Meireles (Chelsea FC), João Moutinho (FC Porto), Hugo Viana (SC Braga), Miguel Veloso (Genoa), Ruben Micael (Real Zaragoza) and Custódio (SC Braga)
Raul Meireles and João Moutinho are sure bets for the starting lineup, especially since both had very good seasons at the club level. The only question is who will be the third element. After his spectacular season at Braga, Hugo Viana seems the most likely choice. His great passing skills and good shooting from distance and set piece ability should earn him a spot alongside Meireles and Moutinho.
The next friendlies will probably provide a better indication of what Paulo Bento has in mind, though.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani, Ricardo Quaresma, Silvestre Varela, Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida, Nelson Oliveira
Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are the obvious choices to start on the wings, with Varela and Quaresma as more than solid back-ups. The only question is if Postiga or Almeida will start in the center of the attack. If qualifying matches are anything to go by, Postiga should get the nod, as he played well and scored some important goals, and also had a better club season.
Nelson Oliveira was called up but shouldn’t really have any chance to be a starter in this competition; he’s a player to look out for the future, but his time to shine is probably not now.
THT’s Player to Watch Out For: Cristiano Ronaldo
The Real Madrid winger is widely regarded as one of the world’s best players and he will go into the Euros after arguably his best ever season from an individual point of view. All eyes will be on him and everyone will be expecting him to finally have a great performance in an international tournament with his National Team. Portugal’s hopes to defy the odds and progress to the knockout stages will be in a way dependent of what Cristiano Ronaldo can produce.
The draw couldn’t have been harder for Portugal. Germany and Holland are two of the three best teams in Europe at the moment and Denmark have been Portugal’s bête noire in recent years, surpassing them in both the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 qualifying groups. Advancing past such a difficult group will be a herculean task for Paulo Bento’s side. With players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and others in their ranks, Portugal always have a chance against anyone and their record against Holand is encouraging. Realistically, though, Portugal isn’t expected to prolong their stay in Poland and Ukraine past the group stages. It’s up to Paulo Bento and his squad to defy the odds.
May 26 vs Macedonia – 0-0
June 2 vs Turkey
Euro 2012 Schedule
June 9 vs Germany
June 13 vs Denmark
June 17 vs Holland