A dark horse

Cristiano Ronaldo's sublime skills should stand Portugal in good stead.-AP

Given the tough draw, the Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz's gameplan would be to keep it tight at the back and wait for Cristiano Ronaldo to produce his well-known touch of magic.

One of the major teams from Europe, Portugal has consistently figured in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings through the last five years, after blooming on the world scene only in the 1990s, much against the hopes it had kindled with a third place World Cup finish in 1966.

The '70s and the '80s was a lean period for Portuguese football before its golden generation of Luis Figo, Fernando Couto, Rui Costa and Victor Baia made it big in the international arena, reminding one of the creative skill of the legendary 1966 Benfica quartet of Jose Torres, Antonio Simoes, Jose Augusto and Eusebio.

Portugal, ever since its second coming, has always been a genuine contender in all the major tournaments right from the 1996 European Championships wherein it provided glimpses of its skill with a quarterfinal finish. Four years later, the side did one better by moving into the semi-finals, before it suffered the heart-break of a first round defeat in the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted for the first time by Japan and South Korea.

In Germany, four years ago, it did redeem some of its lost prestige by once again gaining a semifinal spot after having lost in the final of Euro 2004 at home. At Euro 2008, Portugal again faltered, finishing only in the top eight but could well be a dark horse in South Africa 2010.

In Group I of the European qualifiers, Portugal struggled and needed a playoff win against Bosnia-Herzegovina to make the World Cup. Of course, Portugal's ill-luck seems to have followed it to the event as it has Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea as first round opponents in Group G, a veritable ‘Group of Death'.

In the field, Portugal is expected to be solid in the back with Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho firing on all cylinders and working up pace for the likes of Simao Sabroso, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo in the middle. In the engine room, Ronaldo is, of course, Portugal's biggest inspiration justifying his undoubted talent and knack for goal-scoring. This, particularly, as Portugal's failings in the striking department are all too evident what with Liedson losing his accuracy with goal-bound shots.

Given the tough draw, the Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz's gameplan will be to keep it tight at the back and wait for Ronaldo to produce his well-known touch of magic. The purists may be derisive of this plan of action, which, however, could be effective, particularly against Ivory Coast.

Queiroz is currently in his second stint as Portugal's manager, from 2008, having been in charge in the early '90s. He follows the typical Portuguese style of football, putting his faith on the skills of his centre backs and the dynamism of the wingers.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Eduardo (Braga), Beto (Porto) and Daniel Fernandez (Iraklis).

DEFENDERS

Fabio Coentrao (Benfica), Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea), Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Bruno Alves (Porto), Rolando (Porto), Ricardo Costa (Lille), Duda (Malaga), Pepe (Real Madrid) and Miguel (Valencia).

MIDFIELDERS

Tiago (Atletico Madrid), Deco (Chelsea), Raul Meireles (Porto), Nani (Manchester United), Miguel Veloso (Sporting Lisbon) and Pedro Mendes (Sporting Lisbon).

FORWARDS

Simao Sabrosa (Atletico Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Werder Bremen), Liedson (Sporting Lisbon), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Danny (Zenit St. Petersburg).

Coach: Carlos Queiroz.