Five signs it won't be Portugal's year

The match against Ivory Coast was more of the same old Portugal and unfortunately that same old is not enough for a team that has, or at least likes to think it has, genuine aspirations to win the World Cup.

There were no clear tactics or ideas and unless something changes fairly quickly, there’s a chance Portugal will fall at the first hurdle.

Prior to the match, the media and Carlos Queiroz painted a portrait of Portugal as the perfect family. Photo-ops, cosy safari trips and group interviews with big grins and planted questions artificially created the notion that Portugal are a serious World Cup contender when we really aren’t.

There’s no shame in that, let’s just do our best and leave South Africa as late as possible and with our pride intact.

Now, it may seem like the Portugeezer is on a crusade against the national manager, but yet again Queiroz proved why he lacks the boldness and tactical acumen to lead the national team.

Selecting Danny instead of Simão was a risky decision that ultimately backfired, but it was one made to inject some unpredictability to the team. The real problem however was the manager’s inability to read the game and adapt.

Queiroz ended up making three substitutions, but not a single one stirred things up: Simão replaced Danny, Tiago replaced Deco and Ruben Amorim replaced Raul Meireles – all pretty much straight swaps.

Why was Liedson – forced to fend off Touré and Zokora all by himself – not given a proper partner upfront at some point? Why not adopting a more attacking approach against a team not renowned for their defenders?

For a manager who imposed a minimum target of reaching the semi-finals, accepting this kind of performance is inexcusable.

On Monday, we’ll play against a North Korean side that impressed against Brazil. It will be a battle between a group of skilled prima donnas against a group of subpar players with tremendous work ethic. If the Selecção for some reason underestimate the Koreans, they might just be served up a piping-hot slice of humble pie.

For the record, here are the five things that hint 2010 may just be the new 2002 for Portugal in terms of World Cup prospects:

1) Portugal struggled against the likes of Cape Verde,  Cameroon and Mozambique; both the media and the manager dismissed the importance of these matches, despite it being clear the players were not gelling.

2) After putting in a good performance against Cameroon, Nani was ruled out of the competition due to a shoulder injury. Some people questioned the real reason behind that move and, with the Manchester United winger revealing he would be match-fit again within a week, one cannot help but think there’s more to this story than first meets the eye. And to think Didier Drogba had surgery on his broken arm and came off the bench to play against Portugal.

3) Deco criticizing Queiroz at the end of the match shows one thing: that the bond and respect between players and manager may not be as great as we were led to believe.

4) Word around the Portugal camp and in the pressg is already starting to shift from “We can beat Brazil” to “We can finish in second place and still beat Spain”, even if Spain may not finish on top of their group.

5) Curiously, Queiroz slammed the Ivorians’ tactics, saying they were too defensive when in fact it was the African team that controlled the match for large periods. Apart from Ronaldo’s exquisite effort in the eleventh minute that hit the post, the Portuguese team failed to create clear cut opportunities and could have been stomped by the Elephants.

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