Portugal come into the 2014 World Cup with some expectation; after all they’ve been a feature in the knockout stages of big international tournaments this century – although they haven’t managed to win one yet – and are led by the current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo, who was in doubt until recently but is now said to be a 100%. The draw has been kind to Portugal as well; although Germany are one of the tournament favorites, USA and Ghana are far from the toughest draw Portugal could get – in fact Portugal should be considered sound favorites against both. Perhaps more crucially, if Portugal make it to the knockout stages they will meet one of Belgium, Russia, Algeria or South Korea, who are all far from unbeatable sides.

In other words, it definitely looks like if Portugal hit good form, a strong World Cup run might be on the cards, unlike in 2010 where they met eventual champions Spain in the first knockout round. However, this is far from a vintage Portugal side; aside from Ronaldo, whose form is far from a certainty. There’s a clear lack of firepower up front and it’d be a significant surprise if Portugal really contended for the title. The lack of a #9 has been a problem for years and it remains so with Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida – both far from their prime and as the only options – but far from the only one; in midfield, most options are past their best, while William Carvalho, on the other hand, is not at his peak yet and might be overwhelmed in his first experience at such a huge stage. With Rui PatrAi??cio in goal, JoA?o Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio CoentrA?o, Portugal boast a very solid defense that will prove hard to beat, and of course with Cristiano Ronaldo up front they will be dangerous in the counterattack, and the Real Madrid winger can score at pretty much any time.

It remains to be seen, however, how Portugal will cope when they have to take the initiaitve against Ghana and the USA, something they are not particularly comfortable with; it’s a safe guess that, bar an early goal, those matches won’t be nearly as easy for Portugal as they might appear to be on paper. But first off is a match against Germany, who has beaten Portugal in all of their most recent meetings – World Cup 2006, Euro 2008 and 2012 – and are widely considered one of the tournament favorites. It’s a match where the pressure will be off, a loss would be expected while a draw or a win would go a long away towards ensuring qualification, Portugal will be able to play their game with little pressure and can definitely surprise Germany on a good day. Coach Paulo Bento declared that the team’s objective is first to make it past the group stages and then see where they go from there, a goal that seems pretty realistic: this Portugal side might not comparable to the country’s golden generation of Figo, Rui Costa and co. that reached semi finals and finals at Euros and a World Cup, but it should still be more than enough to make it past the group they were given.

Much as football is a team sport, though, Portugal doing anything more than a solid yet unremarkable campaign will rely on Cristiano Ronaldo stepping up and playing a great tournament; he’s the only truly World Cup worthy attacking player in the side, a transcendent talent that will be expected to lead the team to great heights. It will also be up to the team to give Ronaldo the best platform for his talents to shine, but ultimately he’s the one all eyes will be focused on, especially after the fantastic season he had at Real Madrid and considering the fact that, at 29 years of age, this might be the last World Cup he gets to play while in his physical prime.

All in all, Portugal are far from being one of the tournament favorites, but with a solid defensive unit and Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad they are a potential dark horse and it’s hard to predict just how far they will go; the Germany match might give us a better picture of just how good Portugal can be in this tournament.

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