Hype and hope in Portugal

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There’s a belief in Portugal that we don’t perform when expectations are high. Perhaps unfortunately, big things are expected from the 2010 World Cup football squad.

Having followed our rocky road to South Africa though, the Portugeezer finds it difficult to understand why so many people are buying Carlos Queiroz’s pipe dream-turned-realistic goal of reaching the semi-finals of the competition.

After fending off Bosnia in the play-off back in November, the Selecção have played four friendly matches without looking particularly impressive in any of them. Portugal beat China 2-0 in a match where the players were jeered for their apparent lack of effort, were surprisingly held to a goalless draw by minnows Cape Verde, defeated a Cameroon side who played an hour without the red-carded Samuel Eto’o and breezed past Mozambique 3-0 in a match where the gap in quality was so big that even The Portugeezer without his glasses could see it.

Eto'o and Ronaldo before the friendly

Naturally, friendly matches mean little or nothing, and managers often use them for different purposes: some want to test a new formation, others want to see how youngsters handle the rigours of international football, while a few others simply want to check the players are gelling as a team.

But these friendlies neither tested the team nor helped instil more confidence in the players.

The squad without an attack
Quieroz's cause wasn't helped when Nani was ruled out of the World Cup after failing to shrug off a shoulder injury. The Manchester United winger enjoyed a good season at Old Trafford and could have showcased his increased consistency against the likes of Ivory Coast and Brazil.

Instead, will be replaced by... (drum roll)... Benfica's Ruben Amorim. Here’s why that decision is surprising: Unlike Nani, Amorim can’t dazzle defenders and is more of a utility man – someone who can play as right-back, central midfielder and even as right midfielder. If Queiroz had already been criticised for his lack of boldness, what does this move tell you?

Carlos & Co: Quieroz and his men

Sugarcoat it or not, here’s a fact: for this World Cup, Portugal team will just have two strikers (Liédson and Hugo Almeida) and three wingers – Simão, Danny and Ronaldo. Even if we can count on the attacking prowess of Duda and Fábio Coentrão, that’s not enough for a team that holds genuine aspirations of reaching the last stages of the competition.

Additionally, and even though The Portugeezer is a fan of Pepe, the Real Madrid player has only played 15 minutes (against Mozambique) since rupturing his knee ligaments in December. Even if the knee is fully healed, is Pepe mentally ready to do the dirty work expected for a holding midfielder? More than that, will he actually play?

Stomp or be stomped
As the country awaits the mouth-watering opener against Ivory Coast, there are still many question marks hovering around the real value of the Portuguese team. With players like Didier Drogba (apparently undergoing a Usain Bolt recovery), the Touré brothers, Zokora, Romaric and Kalou, Ivory Coast can be a tough nut to crack and they will give us a test us we haven’t experienced in a while.

Here’s a prediction for the match: the difference between getting stomped by an elephant and stomping one will be Deco and not Ronaldo. Why? Because even though CR9 is a naturally gifted athlete who can dribble, open up spaces and score from distance, Deco's high football IQ makes the team play.

What do you think? Will Portugal defeat Ivory Coast in Group G opening match?

OK amigos, it’s time to fasten your seatbelt and blow your vuvuzela as the biggest competition on the planet. Stay tuned as weg’ll follow this journey together!

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