Euro 2012 preview: Portugal

Perennial underachievers they may be, but Portugal do still possess perhaps Europe's finest player. Ben Lyttleton assesses A Selecção's chances in Poland and Ukraine

Nani, Meireles, Veloso and co. celebrate being allowed to take free-kicks

The squad may look similar, but the mood with Paulo Bento in charge of Portugal is very different. Bento, the former Sporting Lisbon boss, replaced Carlos Queiroz as national team coach after the team’s 
first qualifier, a 4-4 draw with Cyprus, was followed by a 1-0 loss to Norway. Those dropped points almost cost them dear but 
it was actually losing their last qualifier, 
2-1 away to group winners Denmark, that forced Portugal into a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

And it was in that game, specifically the second leg after a 0-0 away draw, that we 
saw Bento’s team at its best. If one moment summed up his reign, it would not be the sublime long-range strike from Nani, the solo dribble and finish from Cristiano Ronaldo, nor the two strikes from Helder Postiga that proved his credentials as more dangerous for country than club (now Zaragoza); no, it would be the free-kick from which Miguel Veloso scored Portugal’s last goal in the 6-2 win. The reason? Because under Bento, anyone can take the 
free-kicks – not just Ronaldo (who had actually scored one earlier in the game).

It was a different story under Queiroz. 
The coach who helped Manchester United 
sign Ronaldo stifled the winger by fielding 
a defensive side and then asking too much 
of his captain. The players resented Queiroz and, after a while, Ronaldo did too. Bento changed things: he moved Ronaldo from centre-forward back to his preferred position on the wing, giving him licence to come inside; he moved Pepe from holding midfielder back to centre-back; and he kept the three-man midfield but this time with Veloso, a composed passer, the deepest midfielder, restoring 
Joao Moutinho as the box-to-box runner 
with Raul Meireles making up the trio.

Ronaldo and Bento were team-mates at Sporting, and the obvious bond between 
them was apparent when the coach faced 
his biggest test: banning Ricardo Carvalho 
from the team after the Real Madrid defender was benched for Pepe and Bruno Alves to 
start against Cyprus in September. Carvalho left the team’s camp in a strop and Bento called him a “deserter”. Carvalho hit back 
and it was getting ugly until Ronaldo intervened, siding with the young coach.

Carvalho, who on this season’s form 
probably doesn’t deserve to start anyway, 
is not the only notable absentee; in fact, 
Jose Bosingwa – who fell out with Bento 
after complaining about being named as 
a substitute against Argentina (Bento accused him of faking injuries to get out of friendlies) 
– could be a bigger loss. His replacement 
at right-back, Joao Pereira, is shorter and 
less dynamic than the Chelsea man.

Bento also has a wild card up his sleeve, 
the type of player Portugal have lacked 
for generations, because it looks as if 
a bona fide top-class centre-forward may 
be emerging. His name is Nelson Oliveira and the clamour for his inclusion 
is growing. He is only 20 and has played just a handful of games 
for Benfica this season, but scored 
10 minutes into his Champions League debut in a win over Zenit St Petersburg. He may not dislodge Postiga, but he gives Portugal a new scoring option from the bench.

Lesson from qualifying

The Sporting connection works: Bento played with Ronaldo, and coached Rui Patricio, Nani, Veloso and Moutinho at the Lisbon club. 
Bento released the pressure the players 
were under during Queiroz’s reign, and they are enjoying representing Portugal again.

Bento's past with many of his squad will at least save him learning new names

StrengthsThe mood in the camp is positive, and despite the bust-ups with Carvalho and Bosingwa, Bento is a popular figure. Beating Spain 4-0 in a friendly also helped. Keeper Rui Patricio, another Sporting player, is developing well, and Ronaldo and Nani (right) on either side of Postiga works.

Weaknesses There are concerns about Pereira 
at right-back, and while the midfield 
is solid and compact, it lacks a quality number 10, with Portugal never 
having properly replaced the creative talisman of the noughties, Deco.

Did you know…? When Carvalho stormed out of the Portugal camp after he was benched for the game against Cyprus last September, he drove 
away in Fabio Coentrao’s car. Hopefully he asked for his team-mate’s permission first.

Expert’s viewSergio Krithinas, Football Editor, O Jogo“A recent survey in O Jogo found that Bento has an 84 per cent approval rating among the fans, which shows how much things have changed from the miserable Queiroz era. The players like being involved now, which makes a big difference. The fact that Portugal are in a tough group is not seen as a problem; in fact it reminds us of Euro 2000, when we got 
out of a group that featured England, Romania and Germany.”

VerdictToo reliant on Ronaldo. Early exit.

Ronaldo certainly won't be unwilling to be Portugal's focal point

Key playerCristiano RonaldoPortugal squeezed through the qualifying round via the play-offs and will now be looking to their talisman for guidance. With the huge responsibility of being both creator and 
goalscorer, Ronaldo simply must 
be on form in order for Portugal to progress from their group of death. Hopefully there will be a little less winking and a little more delicate dinking from Europe’s best player.

The managerPaulo BentoAt the age of 42, Bento is not only the youngest manager at the Euros but also the least experienced. He only has seven years of high-level management to his name (two of them with Portugal), but the former Sporting Lisbon manager was reportedly earmarked to join 
Sir Alex Ferguson 
as assistant back 
in 2008 when Carlos Queiroz 
left for Real Madrid.

How they playPortugal can be absolutely brilliant or equally frustrating, summed up by some lacklustre qualifying performances. The centre of midfield looks strong, and no defence would like to face Ronaldo and Nani cutting in from the flanks. Postiga looks set to play through the middle, although don’t be surprised to see Nelson Oliveira get his chance upfront if the former Spurs man doesn’t hit the ground running.

Euro records1960 Quarter-finals1964 DNQ1968 DNQ1972 DNQ1976 DNQ1980 DNQ1984 Semi-finals 1988 DNQ1992 DNQ1996 Quarter-finals2000 Semi-finals2004 Runners-up2008 Quarter-finals

Group fixturesJune 9, Germany (Lviv, 7.45pm)June 13, Denmark (Lviv, 5pm)June 17, Holland (Kharkiv, 7.45pm)

OddsPortugal are 14/1 to win the tournament, while Cristiano Ronaldo to finish as top scorer with Portugal winning the tournament is 25/1.Exclusive Coral/FourFourTwo free bet offer: Bet £30, get £60.More details coral.co.uk/fourfourtwo

FOURFOURTWO'S EURO 2012 PREVIEWS Grp A: Poland • Russia • Greece • Czech Republic Grp B: Netherlands • Germany • Portugal • Denmark Grp C: Spain • Italy • Croatia • Republic of Ireland Grp D: Ukraine • England • France • Sweden

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