Portugal will arrive at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ with the weighty expectations of demanding coach Carlos Queiroz on their shoulders. The former Manchester United assistant coach has tipped his side to be among the final four at the 11 June - July 11 finals in South Africa.
"Portugal is one of the favourites in the race for one of these places," insisted Queiroz. "World Cup history has shown us that there are always three big favourites in the semi-finals. Portugal and some 15 other teams will be soliciting the outsider's place."
According to the Mozambican-born Queiroz, the favourites - whom he termed as "dinosaurs" - were Brazil, Italy, England, Germany, Spain and Argentina. "In every match we have a good chance of winning. We know it and more importantly our rivals know it as well," Queiroz said of his side who are ranked third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings for the first time in their history.
Deep down, I hope that we're already qualified by the time we face Brazil in our third match, but counting on that would be to show a lack of respect for our other two opponents.
Portugal were semi-finalists in the 2006 and 1966 World Cup tournaments and this time have been drawn in Group G, dubbed the "group of death", alongside Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire and Korea DPR. They kick off against the Côte d'Ivoire on June 15 in Port Elizabeth, play Korea DPR in Cape Town six days later, and wrap up their pool games against Brazil in Durban on June 25.
"It's a fantastic group for world football," said Queiroz. "And we've got North Korea too, a team that triggers good memories of the 1966 World Cup [when Portugal came back from three goals down to beat Korea DPR 5-3 in the quarter-finals]. Deep down, I hope that we're already qualified by the time we face Brazil in our third match, but counting on that would be to show a lack of respect for our other two opponents."
Waiting for Pepe
Queiroz included Real Madrid's Pepe, who is still getting over knee surgery from December, in his provisional 24-strong squad, which will have to be trimmed to 23 before 1 June. "Unknowns can emerge from the time the players get together and we want to be sure that when the time comes to take decisions everyone will be ready," said Queiroz.
The Euro 2004 finalists certainly did not enjoy a smooth qualification for the World Cup. Portugal recorded only one win from their first five group matches, moving quickly from being group favourites to standing on the cusp of elimination. The second half of qualification brought a spectacular transformation, however, and they scored eight goals without reply in their last four group qualifiers to earn a play-off spot.
Despite the absence of captain Cristiano Ronaldo for the two-legged play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they won home and away to clinch a comfortable 2-0 aggregate victory. The Real Madrid striker will be back in South Africa, however, and will undoubtedly be one of the players to watch. The Portuguese team also boasts a strong defensive line-up led by Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho and a steady veteran midfield pair in Simao and Deco.