World Cup 2006 Preview – Portugal
Outright Odds: 22/1
Group D Winners: 5/6
After a disastrous 2002 World Cup, in which they finished bottom of their group following defeats by both the United States and South Korea, Portugal will be looking to finally live up to their potential on the international stage.
Qualification was a breeze. They remained unbeaten in their group and finished seven points clear at the top. Portugal meant business in this group, putting 11 past Luxembourg across two legs and hammering second-favourites Russia 7-1 at home.
The charismatic Luiz Felipe Scolari, or “Big Phil” to his friends, has built a new team to replace the ageing or retired underachievers such as Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and others although Luis Figo, now entering “veteran” status and out of retirement, will be present in Germany. Despite guiding Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and emphatic World Cup qualification, the public are still not convinced he is the man for the job.
The team’s core is based around four players who won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004. Defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira and midfielder Maniche – now all at Chelsea and Costinha, now at Dinamo Moscow provide a solid base for the attack-minded stars to play around.
Attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao Sabrosa and naturalised Brazilian Deco compliment the side perfectly and create numerous chances for striker Pauleta. The Paris St. Germain hitman overtook Eusebio’s record of 41 international goals with an impressive haul of 11 in qualifying, making him the European zone’s top goalscorer.
Manchester United winger Ronaldo could illuminate the finals with his skills and coveted step-overs. He weighed in with seven qualifying goals from midfield, raising his “Fantasy Football” stock considerably.
Portugal have all the makings of a World Cup winning side: a solid defence, exceptional quality and goalscoring potential from midfield and Europe’s deadliest striker in qualifying.
Their main downfall appears to be the goalkeeping position. Sporting Lisbon’s Ricardo and Quim from Benfica are both vying for the jersey although the supporter’s choice seems to be out-of-favour Vitor Baia. A veteran of the 2002 World Cup side, 36-year-old Baia was omitted from Scolari’s final 23 in the Euro 2004 squad.
The underachieving squad from the past have almost all been replaced by a brand new crop of young talent. Old stagers Luis Figo and Pauleta will look for a final swansong, with the latter a sound each-way bet for top goalscorer status.
Portugal to win Group D @ 5/6
E/W Pauleta as top goalscorer @ 40/1