It would be a stretch to call Portugal under-achievers, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that they could be considered the nearly men of European international football. This is a country which has periodically come close in recent years to winning a major trophy without actually lifting one, but the development of football in Portugal to even this point has come after decades of being considered a relative backwater in international terms, even though its biggest clubs have been winning trophies at the highest level since the nascent years of pan-continental club football. This summer, however, a fiendish draw and the ongoing suspicion that the team has the unfortunate ability to not live up to the sum of its parts may mean that its involvement in the European Championships could be curtailed early.
The History: For many years, there was an international team whose moment in the sun came in the summer of 1966 and wasn’t England. Portugal’s first appearance in the World Cup finals ended with them losing narrowly to the host nation and eventual winners. Coming off the back of the success had been enjoying in the European Cup in the years prior to 1966 this was, perhaps, no great surprise, but Portugal’s success proved to be a flash in the pan and it wasn’t until 1984 that the team managed a repeat of this performance when they pushed a brilliant France team to the last minute of extra-time before surrendering. A team led by Luis Figo, however, started the new century with a string of excellent performances, making the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2000, the final of the competition on home turf four years later and the semi-finals of the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
The Team: We all know the stars of the current Portuguese team. The sparkling Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world who doesn’t, somehow or other, get the credit that he deserves for his lavish skill, Nani of Manchester United, Raul Meireles of Chelsea, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao of Real Madrid, Helder Postiga and Joao Pereira of Valencia. Can this team with several layers of talent overcome one of the pre-tournament favourites – Germany and the Netherlands – which will be the minimum requirement in order to get through to as much as the quarter-finals of the competition? The single common denominator of the last ten years of the Portugal national football team has been a tendency to buckle when the pressure gets too great. The lack of a truly world-class goalkeeper is also a concern for a team that will be up against major fire-power in at least two of its opening three matches. Portugal have, however, demonstrated before that they are plenty capable of getting to the latter stages of a tournament such as this.
The Coach: A professional player for seventeen years and an international for a full decade, Paulo Bento’s playing career was solid, if unspectacular with three Portuguese Cups – won with Estralo da Amadora, Sporting and Benfica – and a single league championship, won with Sporting in 2002. On top of this, he also spent four years in Spain, playing for Oviedo. His managerial career so far has taken in just one club and the national team. He moved straight into coaching the youth team at Sporting upon retiring as a player in 2005 and was promoted into the manager’s position a year later and went on to win two successive Portuguese Cups for the club in 2007 and 2008 before resigning in November of 2009 after failing to beat the Latvian side FK Ventspils in the group stages of the Europa League. His international career began just under a year later when he replaced Carlos Queiroz after the team had a dreadful start to its qualifying group for this summer tournament. Initially only hired for the duration of the qualifiers, he was offered an extension to his contract when the team made it through to this summers tournament.
The Prospects: The draw, let’s face it, is a tough one, and Portugal’s nightmare start to qualification – a home draw against Cyprus and a defeat in Norway – was enough to do for the coach. Paulo Bento, however steadied the ship and the group ended up as a three horse race between Portugal, Denmark and Norway, which saw Portugal qualify via the play-offs after finishing in second place in the group. This is a team of contradiction. It has players of lavish ability and it wouldn’t be an earth-shattering event to see them beat one of the Netherlands or Germany, but they finished in second place in their qualification group behind the other team that they will face this summer, Denmark, and Denmark beat them when they met in Copenhagen last October. There also, arguably, concerns that Bentos style of play could be too cautious for a team with Portugals attacking options. Should they get through the group stage of the competition, they could go all the way to the final. Getting through that group stage, however, is a major, major test.
The Kit: Portugal are also long-term adoptees of the Nike brand, and this summers kit is nice and under-stated, as Nike kits for international teams have tended to be in recent years – as ever, red with flashes of green. The change kit, however, is a little startling. It’s white with a big red and green cross plastered across of its middle, and with Denmark playing in red and the Netherlands in orange, we’ll probably get the opportunity to see it in action this summer.
The National Anthem: Portugal: “A Portuguesa” (The Portuguese Hymn) Portugal and Great Britain hold the longest-standing treaty agreement in the world – The Treaty of Windsor dates back to 1386 – so it is perhaps ironic that it was a nationalistic fervour against the British government that gave birth to the current Portuguese national anthem. In 1890, the British government – demonstrating little-to-no capacity for irony themselves – issued an ultimatum to Portugal to remove their military presence from their colonies in Africa, in order to facilitate the building of a British railway from Egypt to the Cape. Portugal acceeded to the demands, the country’s republican movement were stoked up into a frenzy and A Portuguesa was hastily written and adopted as its official marching song. Twenty years later, the republican movement prevailed, and A Portuguesa became the official national anthem of Portugal a year later in 1911. Predictably, it’s a fairly strident affair, not least in the chorus:
To arms, to arms!
Over the land, over the sea,
To arms, to arms!
To fight for our Fatherland!
Against the cannons, march, march!
In the original version, that final line read “Against the British, march, march!”. And we’re sure that everyone can sympathise with that.
Don’t forget that with Euro 2012 approaching you can download the Twohundredpercent Euro 2012 spreadsheet here (for Excel 2007), whilst a version that will be compatible with older versions of Excel is available here.
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