Portugal have a tradition of fine performances at the European Championship, having survived the group stage every time they have made the finals. This has happened five times: twice the country reached the quarter-finals and twice the semi-finals. In 2004, Portugal hosted the tournament and produced their best run ever, all the way to the final; it was only an inspired Greece that spoiled the party, winning 1-0.
After a disappointing start to their qualification tilt for Euro 2012 – 4-4 against Cyprus and a 1-0 loss to Norway – Portugal ended their campaign in style with a spectacular 6-2 victory over Bosnia in the playoffs. Coach Paulo Bento handed the team a boost with several tactical changes which included the involvement of many stars with Sporting Lisbon connections: Joao Moutinho, Nani, Miguel Veloso and Cristiano Ronaldo – the latter was given a free role on the flanks. A quiet-before-the-storm type situation makes Portugal dangerous opponents for any side, especially if their forward line fires.
In The Dugout – Paulo Bento
Bento was handed the Portugal post on 20th September 2010 following Carlos Queiroz’ dismissal after a poor start to the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. In just a few months he managed to turn Portugal from a depressed team into one playing with joy and secured the country’s spot at the finals. A big feather in the coach’s cap came on 17th November as Portugal defeated World Cup winners Spain 4-0 in Lisbon, inflicting their heaviest defeat on their Iberian neighbours since 1963. A former international, capped 35 times, Bento retired in 2004 and just 18 months later took over as Sporting Lisbon coach, leading the club to two Portuguese Cups and two Portuguese Super Cups in four years.
Key Player – Cristiano Ronaldo
No introduction is needed for one of the world’s best players. Ronaldo has it all, pace, power, dribbling, heading, shooting, vision and a never-say-die attitude. His 2011/12 campaign also saw him prevail over arch-rival Lionel Messi, both individually and with club side Real Madrid. The Portuguese was vital for Los Blancos’ 32nd title, scoring 46 goals in 38 La Liga games and also becoming the only player in Spanish league history to score 40 goals in two successive seasons. Ronaldo was also Portugal’s top scorer in qualification for Euro 2012 with seven goals. Currently the country’s third all-time top goal-getter (after Pauleta and Eusebio), the Funchal-born star is expected to make a big impact in Poland/Ukraine after disappointing displays at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
View from Portugal
The stability brought by Bento has increased expectation amongst the Portuguese public and hopes are high that the country can survive what is Euro 2012’s “Group of Death”. If Portugal can succeed in making the knockout phase, then the semi-final is considered a realistic aim, especially if Ronaldo can reproduce his Real Madrid performances.
In Portugal all eyes are focused on Ronaldo. In the past, this pressure has not helped the Real Madrid phenomenon, who has found himself under fire for a lack of consistency at international level. Portugal need Ronaldo to shrug this off and be at his best for the side to go further than the group stage at Euro 2012, especially taking into account the country’s defensive weakness with key players Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa missing – both had a bust-up with Bento. A clean sheet philosophy does not suit the Portuguese and Ronaldo, with Nani and Helder Postiga, must aim to make sure the side score one more goal than their opponents.