Portugal suffering Cypriot hangover

Portugal kicked-off their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign on Friday evening with a 4-4 home draw against Cyprus, a result that, while not a disaster per-se, left an entire nation frustrated.

The optimist will try to use this bad experience as an opportunity to fix what is wrong with the national team before any serious damage is done.

1. Autopilot doesn’t work in football

The sub-par performances at South Africa could well have cost Carlos Queiroz his job, had that not in turn cost the Portuguese Football Federation a lot of money, having previously tied-down the former Manchester United assistant to a four-year contract.

Soon after the World Cup, reports emerged about a bust-up with officials from the National Doping Agency and whispers Queiroz was about to have his contract terminated started to spread.

Last week and after a poorly conducted investigation, the National Doping Agency doled out a heavy six month suspension that puts the national manager’s job at risk and the team preparations’ in tatters.

This farce was further compounded when federation supremo Gilberto Madail, in a pathetic attempt to downplay the relevance of the manager, insisted the team would cope ‘in autopilot’ against Cyprus.

Whether we were in autopilot or simply with just the wingman, truth is every team needs a pilot or a leader (Sweden even had two once upon a time!) - Portugal currently have nobody.

Unfortunately for the Selecção, the fact that a lot of people have retreated to silence implies that Queiroz may indeed be made scapegoat in the whole process and that the team is not being properly prepared and supported. In the end, we all lose...

2. No young starlets ready to replace the old geezers

Deco had already announced he would retire from international football before the World Cup, but when you add the departure of the gifted Brazilian-born playmaker to the departures of Simão and Paulo Ferreira, you have a squad that lacks strength-in-depth.

The so-called ‘golden generations’ only appear every now and then and at the moment we lack a bit of star quality.

Furthermore, if in the past, the U-21 side boasted having the likes of Quaresma, Ronaldo and Hugo and Viana, at the moment it seems hard to imagine taking one of the current crop making the step up to the senior squad.

3. What is the selection criteria?

Acting manager Agostinho Oliveira made quite a few surprising inclusions on the starting XI.

Right-back Miguel is someone who peaked four or five years ago - if Portugal had more options at the moment, he would get dropped. The Valencia fullback has lost not only his once-blistering pace, but also his passion, and was a liability against Cyprus.

Raúl Meireles was another puzzling decision; the former Porto midfielder is an important player for the Selecção in normal conditions, but he has barely played so far this term and looked to be lacking sharpness. He scored from outside the box, but also made a glaring error that allowed Konstatinou to score.  Should he have started? Certainly not with his current match fitness levels...

Equally surprising, but on a positive note was Ricardo Quaresma’s performance. The flamboyant winger has flourished at Besiktas and was one of the best on Friday. Still, it is a bit ironic to think he only received a call-up after Ronaldo was ruled out through injury...

4. Enthusiasm levels at an all-time low

Portugal played at Vitoria Guimaraes’s 30,000-capacity Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, but only a third of those seats were actually graced with buttocks for the match.

Granted, the match was on a Friday night and against a relatively weak opponent, but it has been quite a long time since the enthusiasm levels with the national team have reached this low.

There is less empathy between the supporters and the squad and that is affecting both parties: supporters are not filling the stadiums and the morale among the players does not increase.

In this chicken-egg type dilemma, only a sound victory can repair the special relationship between the Portuguese supporters and its players.

Prediction

Portugal still have the quality to beat Norway, few would dispute that fact. However, the fact they are struggling and without a manager gives the Scandinavians an opening.

The Portugeezer’s prediction: Norway 1-1 Portugal

The defence – even without the injured Coentrão - will tighten up having been unusually poor on Friday – but the attack will not be as productive as it was. Expect a close match that may be decided ay on a creative spark from Quaresma.

What do you think? Will Portugal leave Oslo empty-handed or with three valuable points in the bag?

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