Can Portugal escape the ‘Group of Death?’
Posted on May 29, 2012 by Tarik Ross Cameron
I have a riddle for you today. Name this national football team… They are known in their homeland as the Selecção. They have been coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ronaldo is one of their best players ever, and they speak Portuguese…
What’s that you say…? Ah! Indeed! There are two possible answers to my riddle! Ok, here’s one more hint… They are the greatest football nation never to have won a major trophy…
And there is the giveaway. I am of course talking about Portugal, who despite sharing these similarities with the decorated Brazil national team, and producing some of football’s most gifted players down the years, have attracted the label of ‘perennial underachievers’ with their failure to win a World Cup or European Championship.
Like their Iberian neighbours Spain in 2008, the Navigators go into this Euro tournament hoping to finally shake off that tag, none more so than captain Cristiano Ronaldo whose now-annual duel with Lionel Messi for the FIFA Ballon D’Or has intensified his desire to lead Portugal to victory this summer, to boost his chances of individual glory after a successful season with Real Madrid.
As in recent tournaments, the team is well stocked in terms of talent, but there remain doubts over whether they can topple the most dangerous teams, including Germany and the Netherlands, who are in their group. Last week Nani proclaimed that Portugal are high on self-confidence ahead of their opening group B game against Euro 2008 runners-up Germany. Ronaldo meanwhile echoed his compatriot but declared them not among the favourites for this tournament, whilst Nuno Gomes has revealed that a general ‘take each game as it comes’ attitude pervades among fans.
Whilst Ronaldo dreams of enhancing his CV with a trophy at international level, the Selecção simultaneously enters its third tournament removed from the ‘golden generation’ of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Co. who came so close to glory on home soil at Euro 2004. The mixed feelings about this team’s chances were evident in the media’s reaction to Paulo Bento’s squad selection, with many expressing their belief that the squad, although not without its strong points, lacks the depth that is often crucial in the latter stages of tournaments.
And while the form of Ronaldo is rightfully regarded as being key to a good or bad run at this European Championship, there is also doubt over whether Portugal will ever win a major tournament without a prolific striker to compliment the creativity—and the goals—of wingers like Nani and Ronaldo. Benfica’s Nelson Oliveira is seen as a future solution to that problem and is included in the squad, but is expected to feature mainly from the bench as he acclimatises to senior international football.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave his contribution to Real Madrid’s remarkable season a ‘10 out of 10.’ With doubts about the capability of the Selecção to go all the way at this particular tournament, especially with such a tough group to negotiate, perhaps, then, the best barometer of Portugal’s chances will be whether or not their former World Player of the Year can sustain his ‘10 out of 10’ performance level until 1st July.