Group G: Portugal

They may have Ronaldo, but injuries and an unpopular manager spell trouble for Portugal, says Ben Lyttleton.

Portugal came through a tough qualifying group with more questions than answers for coach Carlos Queiroz, who has baffled supporters with some of his selections and failed to win over players preferring the more laid-back approach of his predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari.

That, along with a draw that has pitted them alongside Brazil and Ivory Coast and with a potential Round of 16 tie against Spain, explains the pessimism around the team’s supporters – despite FA president Gilberto Madail’s public demand that Portugal improve on 2006’s fourth-placed finish.

Queiroz has also upset fans of Benfica, who have enjoyed a superb season domestically and in Europe, by ignoring the claims of goalkeeper Quim (he prefers to pick Chelsea’s Hilario as back-up to Eduardo, so the first-choice need not fear for his place) and left-back Fabio Coentrao, with his place going to Duda.

His biggest decision has been to pick the recently-naturalised Liedson at centre-forward, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to go back to the wing in a 4-3-3 system, or just behind him in a 4-4-2, which Liedson prefers. Queiroz has also made the risky call to use Pepe, the Real Madrid centre-back out injured for most of the season, in a midfield alongside Raul Meireles and Deco.

But considering fans booed the team in their March friendly against China in Coimbra, no one is holding out much hope for a long campaign in South Africa.

Pepe has only moved to midfield because the central defensive partnership of Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves is so strong, and with Rolando the first reserve, Carvalho’s latest ankle injury is not the drama it could have been. Ronaldo is much less individualistic than he used to be for his country.

Injuries have come at a bad time for Portugal: Jose Bosingwa is out at right-back, leaving Paulo Ferreira to fill in, while Porto’s in-form left-winger Varela broke his leg in March and will miss out. Now Nani has injured his collarbone in training attempting a spectacular flying shot.

Liedson’s call-up was a sign of how desperate Queiroz has become for a regular goalscorer that has been lacking for so long.

Interesting fact
 He may be the most expensive player in the world and scored a hatful of goals for Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s last goal for Portugal was against the Czech Republic in Euro 2008.

The Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Queiroz has been an unpopular national team boss. The players don’t respond to his methods, complaining he acts like a school teacher, forcing them to watch hours of videos. The joyful atmosphere built by Scolari is now a distant memory – and with Queiroz contracted until 2012, there will be no let-up soon.

There are also complaints he does not use friendlies to try different players or tactics: Ariza Makukula, top scorer in the Turkish league, has been continually ignored as have Benfica’s players despite their lofty position in Portugal.

Key Player: Cristiano RonaldoAt some point he will take his club form onto the biggest stage.

Probable Team (4-3-3): 
Ferreira, Carvalho, Alves, Duda; 
Meireles, Pepe, Deco; 
Simao, Liedson, C Ronaldo

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the playersQ&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

FixturesIvory Coast, June 15, 3pm, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port ElizabethKorea DPR, June 21, 12.30pm, Cape TownBrazil, June 25, 3pm, Durban

Qualified 2nd in UEFA Group OneMalta (A) 4-0Denmark (H) 2-3Sweden (A) 0-0Albania (H) 0-0Sweden (H) 0-0Albania (A) 2-1Denmark (A) 1-1Hungary (A) 1-0Hungary (H) 3-0Malta (H) 4-0Bosnia-Herzegovina (H) 1-0Bosnia-Herzegovina (A) 1-0

World Cup record1966 Semi-Final1986 1st Round2002 1st Round2006 Semi-Final

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