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Monday, June 9, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #2 For 6/9/14: #19 Portugal

Photo from UEFA.com 

Projected Formation:  

                 Eduardo 

Pereira - Alves -Pepe- Coentrao 

   Veloso - Moutinho -  Meireles 

   Nani                       Ronaldo 

                  Postiga 

The Runthrough 

The long ongoing search for an out and out top striker for Portugal continues in the 9th year after the international career of Pauleta. For a system swarmed in midfield wing talent, it has gone quite bizarre for the other country on the Iberian Peninsula to still not develop a line leading man who puts the fear into the other side like Cristiano Ronaldo has so famously done cutting in. It is the same conundrum that plagues Portugal and prevents them likely from repeating a fine semifinal result in 2006. A Craigslist search might be the only way to give A Seleccao the person they so badly require.  

But that annoying, persistent problem for Paulo Bento's side has gone to the immediate backburner with a slightly, just slightly, more pressing problem: Cristiano Ronaldo's pressing knee issues. 

The reigning world player of the year has been dealing with his tendinitis- tendonitis injury since the end of Real Madrid's La Decima season. It started to affect him in early May and has become more exacerbated over the last four weeks. A long campaign with Los Blancos hasn't helped, and at age 29, despite being a fitness freak, those types of injuries could be common now for how hard and physical Ronaldo plays on the offensive end. 

Portugal were already a shaky side even with its global superstar captain at the helm. Pepe and Bruno Alves's lack of recovering speed were badly exposed in qualifying against Russia, while the offensive side converted again into "Ronaldo or bust" mode, as it barely survived even the group stages of UEFA qualifying. If it weren't for Sweden having to play a high line searching for a goal and getting caught by history's greatest counter attacking force, Bento could have seen his side miss out on its first World Cup since 1998 in a forgettable playoff defeat. 

Instead, they are here thanks to Ronaldo's brilliance. That presents for a good bit of the squad to have their last chance of World Cup prominence. The 2006 "Last 4" result has not buoyed a talented group following the famous "Golden Generation" into greatness besides Ronaldo. Luis Nani has never grown into "the next Cristiano" at Manchester United while Ricardo Quaresma, a man who arguably had a bigger youth reputation than the charismatic #7, looks set to never play in a World Cup after missing out on the final 23 again. Nine players on this Portugal roster are 30 or over, with Ronaldo being close to entering his 4th decade on Earth. Only four players on the roster is 26 or under. 

Two of those over 30's are ahead of the list of failed candidates who have not succeeded in following Pauleta. Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida will have their final shot at changing the narrative on their international careers. Postiga somehow got move to Lazio and played in only 5 games on loan from Valencia, as he has never matched a strong mental side to his array of abilities. Almeida's big physical presence in the box is nice in certain moments, but his lack of pace and dribbling ability has always made him a run of the mill spot starter. Still, they are the best two choices that Bento has up front, as Eder of Braga is marginal at best. A cup bizarrely bare indeed for the nation of Eusebio. 

Those lack of line leading options are why the central midfield can't show any signs of decline. Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso are still capable of effective two-way play while Joao Moutinho is as sound a deep distributor as they come in the world. But they still lack the passing cohesion with each other to break down a quality team's organized defending from the middle.  Hoping that a moment of individual brilliance from the outside wingers or fullbacks has limited Portugal chances of being true contenders despite a ridiculous FIFA ranking currently of #4. 

Fabio Coentrao established himself as the leftback Madrid purchased from Benfica and will be counted on equality to help in attack as much as defending, and that could work against Bento's side with Alves and Pepe always at risk of being outpaced. All three teams, even the United States, will certainly look to exploit Coentrao's aggressiveness while being wary of how great going forward he is. The same holds true for right back Joao Pereira, who must bounce back from an average season at Valencia and give his country at least three defenders they can rely upon at all times in their half of the field.  Bento can at least trust in his solid list of accomplished good keepers, as Eduardo just edged Rui Patricio and Beto for the starting nod. 

With how old this roster is, youngsters William Carvalho and Rafa Silva will have to inject some youthful quality into this side if they dream of making any sort of deep run. The Sporting Lisbon 22-year-old holding mid has the physical presence to be a stalwart for his nation in the years to come, but will find it hard to beat Moutinho, Meireles, and Veloso for starter's minutes. Silva was never a big time prospect in his teenage years but has grown nicely into an impact player for Braga with his energy, good pace, and decent dribble. If Nani underperforms once more, expect Silva to maybe get consideration as his sub replacement for Bento over the experience Silvestre Varela. Zenit centerback Luis Neto rounds off a decent bench for the Euro 2004 roundups, as the 26-year-old is a good backup for both Alves and Pepe. 

But it all goes back into Ronaldo or bust for Portugal, and how the nation will be hoping and praying he gets back fit. The team struggled to create chances once again against Greece and Mexico, and will need to find something real fast before the opener against Germany on June 16th. It will take an extraordinary effort from Ronaldo, Coentrao, and the rest of the outside men if Postiga, Almeida, and the rest of the forward crew keeps on providing nothing. And even that great play from the wingers still may not be enough.

Under The Radar, Key Players 

Postiga: Although globally knows for years thanks to bouncing his inconsistent talent throughout Europe, Postiga could have one career defining performances with his abilities still very much present. Now would be such the great time for him to produce for his country and end their long nightmare at the striker option, while taking the pressure off Ronaldo, Coentrao, and the other winger's shoulders. 


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