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World Cup team preview: Portugal

by Mark Lee Armstrong Smith
May 24, 2014 7:07 PM BST



Can one man win a World Cup? It's arguably only happened once, with Diego Maradona dragging an average Argentina side to victory in 1986.
Lionel Messi's 2014 Argentina are strong enough to transcend the accusation of being reliant on an individual, so the billing falls on Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal have dent players, of course: defensive midfielder William Carvalho has lit up the Portugese league at Sporting Lisbon, and coupled with Joao Moutinho, the side are staunch in the middle.
But some of their first XI haven't performed consistently this season, Nani and Fabio Coentrao to name but two, and they lack a top-level striker, a problem that dates back to Figo and Rui Costa's 'golden generation'.
All of which means the onus falls heavily on a superman who can dominate sides of similar standard, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden found out in the play-offs, but probably can't overpower the entire rest of the world on his own.
The Perception:
A side who often menace their way to the latter stages of the tournament without realistically threatening to win.
They may shock a side or two, but the overall pattern is unlikely to change.
The Reality:
Much like the perception, without options upfront or back-up choices in key positions Portugal have an XI that can defeat strong teams on their day but will be lucky to repeat the feat beyond the quarter-finals.
The Boss:
Paulo a Bento is a strong-minded disciplinarian who doesn't like to take chances and squeezes the best out of an average crop.
Bento's line-ups are low on surprises and injuries apart, he works consistently with a group of his favourites.
The Masterplan:
They play best on the counter; coach Bento will assign the Portugese forward line with the role of keeping defenders occupied and dragging them out of position, opening up space for Ronaldo's raids.
A versatile core, underpinned by Moutinho's accurate passing and Pepe's defensive acumen, gives them a solidity that can foil lesser opponents.
Strengths:
Beyond the obvious, Portugal do work very hard for each other.
They may not all be the best in their positions, but they put the graft in to help out the man who is.
Every player counts in this line-up, but one of them counts above all.
Weaknesses:
A bench without high-profile alternatives and the fact that some first-teamers had irregular seasons at club level, and are consequently lacking sharpness, could prove to be a major headache for Bento.
Lessons from qualifying:
Feed Ronaldo, albeit without forcing the issue too much, which is something they did brilliantly against Sweden.
Portugal need a Plan B, especially if he is having a bad day.
World Cup group stages can be brutal, and if they don't focus, they could depart early from a tough group.
Key Player:
The current heavyweight champion of the world, in footballing terms, can add another belt to his collection by out gunning Messi in Brazil.
Win the thing and he'll be immortalised as one of the games all-time greats.

Verdict:They'll get thorough the group, possibly even top it, depending on the result against Germany.
But getting beyond that will require CR7 in galactic form.