|EURO 2012 TEAM GUIDE: PORTUGAL
Betfair: 1 June 2012
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. (c) The Sporting Exchange Limited.
Portugal may have the pre-tournament best player in their ranks, but whether they can go on and win the tournament is another matter says Dave Farrar.
Road to Euro 2012
For a long time it looked as if Portugal were going to be the big team which missed out on qualification for Euro 2012. After such a weak exit at the last World Cup, beaten toothlessly by Spain, it was a little surprising that Carlos Queiroz was in charge at the start of the qualifiers for this tournament. It only took two games for him to be sacked, a ridiculous 4-4 draw against Cyprus and then a 1-0 defeat in Norway.
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At that point, the Portuguese looked outsiders to qualify from a group which also contained Denmark and Iceland, but the appointment of Paulo Bento proved to be, if not inspired, then very sensible. Portugal beat Denmark next time, and then won their next four.
Ultimately, after another mad game, a 5-3 victory over Iceland, Portugal fell just short of Denmark, who beat Bento's team in the final game to send Portugal into a play off. Once again, the opposition were Bosnia and Herzegovina, and once again Portugal had too much for Dzeko, Misimovic and co. They are capable of producing amazing performances, like the 4-0 victory over Spain that was no fluke, and yet they can't be trusted. Portugal are potential winners, of course they are, but they're also candidates to go out at the Group Stage. They won't be dull to watch, and their results in qualifying show that they're over 2.5 goals candidates, but it's a stretch to see them winning the whole thing.
Paulo Bento was rather thrown into this campaign after the inevitable sacking of Queiroz, but he has adapted to international football with admirable swiftness and fortitude. Bento was a top player and has had success so far as a coach. I wonder in fact if he might end up being the man compared to Jose Mourinho, rather than that master of the false dawn, Andre Villas Boas. Gives the impression of being a good man manager, which is crucial if you're going to get both Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Nani to play for you. Bento was a substitute in that infamous Euro 2000 semi final defeat by France, and so will be desperate for some kind of redemption here.
Hmmmmmm, I wonder who it could be. It has to be him of course, and I'm not talking about Bebe. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best two players in the world, and so logically should be the best player at this tournament. He has been phenomenal for Real Madrid this season, scoring 60 goals in 55 games, and deserves every accolade that comes his way. But can he influence a major international tournament the way that he has La Liga? There's a danger of burnout and also of him not having the support or the team shape that he needs to succeed. That has been the problem before and one of Bento's most intriguing jobs is to set the team up in such a way that allows Ronaldo to play. If he scores at Euro 2012 then he'll move ahead of Luis Figo and go third in the all time list of Portuguese international goalscorers. The names of the first two men in that list sum up Portuguese football history rather neatly: a story of near misses, glorious talent, and the lack of a goalscorer - the names are Eusebio and Pauleta.
If you'd said at the start of the season that Portugal would have a Champions League finalist in their squad, then the names of Ronaldo and Pepe would have been at the forefront of most people's minds, with Fabio Coentrao and even Nelson Oliveira and Joao Moutinho having an outside chance. But the man is Raul Meireles and it capped a remarkable season for him. Meireles didn't play in the final, but he is a much better player than some Chelsea analysts give him credit for. I thought that Liverpool were crazy to let him go, and the only surprise is the insistence of using him as a holding midfielder. When he has licence to roam then he can be a major threat. Watch out for him in the "To Score" market in the group stage. A master of popping up with the key goal at just the right time.
Rather like Russia, Portugal only have one really young player in their squad. Unlike Alin Dzagoev, I am a fan of Nelson Oliveira, having first seen him play well in the World Under 20 Championships. He looks like he'll be a fringe player here, but as ever with Portugal, you can never be quite sure what will happen with regard to their strikers. If Helder Postiga fails to fire, then Oliveira might just get a chance. He only scored three times for Benfica last season, but there is potential there, and we may see it flower if Portugal progress.
Portugal's initial role at the tournament will be that of potential party poopers. They are the only team in their group not to have won the European Championship, and that puts them under gigantic pressure. The fixtures work out well for them, with a chance to catch Germany cold in Lviv followed by another match against the Danes and then The Netherlands to play immediately after their crunch match with Germany. Portugal's biggest danger is falling flat against Germany and then finding their qualifying nemesis too good. I think that Portugal could go a long way and that 20.0 might look a big price in a months time, but there are far too many random factors to take into account how far they might go. I think that the best bet will be for Portugal's opening game of the tournament, against Germany, to have Over 2.5 and 3.5 Goals. Despite the history of first Group matches producing Under 2.5 Goals, this one can buck the trend at around 1.98.