Portugal: One-Man Strategy

By: Juan Mesa

HOW DID THEY GET HERE: After a lackluster performance in the UEFA qualifiers, Portugal scored one of the last tickets to Brazil by defeating Sweden in the playoffs by an aggregate score of 4-2. The last-minute feat can be fully attributed to Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored all of his team’s goals in the series.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Soccer is a team sport, and Portugal’s winning formula has only one name: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese would have probably been left out of the World Cup party if it weren’t for his otherworldly talent. He can score from any distance, with both legs and the head, and on top of that, he often proves helpful in the defense thanks to his height.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS: The other side of the coin: what if Ronaldo is absent? He’s recovering from a thigh injury, and missed Saturday’s warm-up game against Greece—which ended in a scoreless draw. To make things worse, the team is already given to counterattack, a strategy that could be harmless without the Real Madrid’s star. Midfielders Nani, João Moutinho and Miguel Veloso are talented, but can’t build effective offensive plays on their own.

WORLD CUP CHANCES: Ronaldo’s power combined with a strong defense led by Pepe can take Portugal all the way to the final if the counterattack strategy works. Yet Group G has been deemed by many to be this World Cup’s “Group of Death,” and the calendar will not be doing the Portuguese any favors. They open against Germany, next come the United States (a chance to take revenge for the 3-1 defeat in Korea/Japan 2002), and may be playing for their lives against Ghana, arguably Africa’s strongest team. It does not seem like an impossible road, but it will certainly not be a joyride.

FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: If Cristiano Ronaldo ends up ruling this World Cup, he won’t be the first Portuguese to do so. In the 1960’s, a Benfica player born in Mozambique named Eusébio challenged Pelé and Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano as the world’s best player. He was the top scorer at the England 1966 World Cup with nine goals, and is considered among the best players in history. The Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning when Eusébio passed away last January.

IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Silver Rocket” by Sonic Youth.

Juan Mesa is a freelance writer based in New York City. He covers soccer and Latin music. When he's not writing, you can find him watching soccer games, talking about soccer or collecting soccer memorabilia. To relax, he plays house music vinyls.