Ronaldo will hit form to make us contenders, says Portugal coach

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The Independent Football

As a former coach to the South African national team who was born in Mozambique, Portugal's Carlos Queiroz says this is a "special" World Cup for him, preparations for which continue with a friendly today against his native land. Exactly 12 months ago, however, he did not look like making it this far. After three home games in a moderately difficult qualifying group produced just two points, the Portuguese seemed likely to lose out to Denmark and Sweden, but a last-minute winning goal in Albania by central defender Bruno Alves proved a turning point. Without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, they beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs. Being drawn with Brazil and Ivory Coast on the back of such an uninspiring qualifying campaign has nevertheless had bookmakers offering odds of up to 22-1 against Portugal winning the competition in which they finished third in 1966 and, more relevantly, fourth four years ago.

In the last two European Championships they have also shown up well, unexpectedly losing their "home" final to Greece in 2004 and reaching another semi-final in 2008. There is much talent in the squad from Ricardo Carvalho at the back to Ronaldo in attack, yet even the run-up to this afternoon's final warm-up game has been patchy; an embarrassing 0-0 draw against Cape Verde, ranked 114th in the world, preceded last week's 3-1 win over Cameroon, who had Samuel Eto'o sent off. Better news is that Pepe, Real Madrid's holding midfielder who has been out for six months after injuring his cruciate ligaments, will return as a substitute today.

Yesterday, Queiroz reiterated his faith in Ronaldo, who was below par in the seven qualifying games he played, failing to score in almost 10 hours. The player has claimed he is "saving my goals for the World Cup". However, the ability of other forwards like Nani, who blossomed last season after Ronaldo left Old Trafford, Atletico Madrid's Simao and Liedson, a prolific central striker for Sporting Lisbon, should allow Ronaldo to play in his better position out wide.

Liedson is one of several naturalised Brazilians in the squad – Deco being another – which will give an extra edge to the final group match against Brazil. "We might already be qualified [by then]," Queiroz says optimistically. There are varying opinions on his abilities. It may be that he is one of those better suited as a coach than a manager. Sir Alex Ferguson has always spoken warmly of him in the former role with United, but he could make nothing of the Real Madrid job and in a previous incarnation in charge of Portugal was unsuccessful. As South African manager he should have been at the 2002 finals but resigned beforehand after a row with their football association.

This time, as well as praising the squad's "talent and tournament experience", Queiroz is playing the card of national pride: "You can be assured the team will do everything to honour the country. We will have courage, inspiration and determination."