Spotlight on the main contenders: Portugal
Countdown to South Africa: 91 days to go
Friday 12 March 2010
For a team which always seemed to be one defeat away from missing out on the World Cup, Portugal will be going to South Africa in remarkably good shape. When a poor start to qualifying was followed by a 6-2 defeat to Brazil, the reign of the former Manchester United coach Carlos Queiroz seemed certain to be cut short. That was 16 months ago. Portugal have since been unbeaten, winning 10 of 13 matches, keeping 11 clean sheets and last conceding to Nicklas Bendtner six months ago.
"At the start [of the qualifiers] the team couldn't get the results their performances deserved," Queiroz said. "Sometimes when you win, people think that everything is great and it isn't; sometimes when you lose it's just one step back and a reason to do better next time."
The naturalisation of another Brazilian, Liedson, has helped. The Sporting Lisbon striker's third goal in eight against China last week, completing a sixth straight win, suggests he may be the solution to the perennial centre-forward problem.
But while one Brazilian joins the campaign another looks like sitting it out, with the central defender Pepe recuperating from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in December. This will put greater responsibility on Ricardo Carvalho.
There is a problem in goal, with six keepers called up in the last year – only one of whom, Braga's Eduardo, has more than a pair of caps. Last week Chelsea's Hilario was given his debut, at the age of 34. There are also reports of a useful player called Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal: World ranking: 6.
World Cup Group: G (with Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea).
When might they meet England? SF.
Odds: 28-1 (William Hill).
Pedigree: Third 1966.
Last five results: Hungary W 3-0 (h), Malta W 4-0 (h), Bosnia W 1-0 (h), Bosnia W 1-0 (a), China W 2-0 (h).
Upcoming fixtures: Cape Verde (h, 24 May), Cameroon (h, 1 June), Mozambique (n, 8 June).
One to watch: Liedson.
Fan file: Weary of Queiroz's side flattering to deceive once again.
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