Beaten 4-0 by Germany on their Group G debut and deprived of the services of some of their first-choice players through injury and suspension, Portugal have made an inauspicious start to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Nevertheless, a look at the history books shows that they need not despair. After slow starts at UEFA EURO 2004 and 2012, A Selecção das Quinas went far on both occasions.
Sunday’s meeting with USA is a crucial one for Paulo Bento’s men, and victory would certainly give them a timely lift, especially with Fabio Coentrao having gone back to Lisbon, with his World Cup having come to a premature, injury-enforced end, and Pepe serving a one-match suspension. To make matters worse, Rui Patricio and Hugo Almeida have both picked up knocks that will keep them sidelined until after the group phase, while Bruno Alves is also an injury doubt. All five started against the Germans and their absences – temporary or otherwise – have given coach Bento plenty to ponder as he assesses his options for the USA game.
The Portuguese need not feel too downcast, however, not when they have shown an ability to recover from similar situations in the past.
Qualifying from the opening round is our first objective at this World Cup, and it’s still in our hands.
One of the first to give the Lusitanians his support was their former coach Luiz Felipe Scolari: “I’d like to remind Portugal and my Portuguese friends that when I was the coach at EURO 2004 we lost our first match and still qualified. The only encouragement I can give them is that we came back from that and reached the final.”
The Portuguese lost to Greece in the opening match of that competition, which they hosted, but recovered to beat the likes of Spain, England and the Netherlands only to come off second best again to the Greeks in the tournament showpiece.
*Group stage pressure *
Eight years later, this time with Bento in the hotseat, Portugal lost to Germany in their group opener before beating Denmark, the Netherlands and Czech Republic en route to the semi-finals, where they went out to eventual champions Spain on penalties. The Spanish also accounted for their neighbours at South Africa 2010, a situation that cannot be repeated at Brazil 2014, with the world champions having already been knocked out.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been under pressure in the group phase,” said Bento following the defeat to Germany. “Qualifying from the opening round is our first objective at this World Cup, and it’s still in our hands. That’s what we’re fighting for. It’s a tough time for us and we’re not happy at starting the World Cup on the back foot and having all these players missing. I always say the same thing, though: we show who we are when we’re under pressure.”
Helder Postiga also played down the pressure he and his team-mates are under: “You’re always going to have pressure in the World Cup, even if the game had gone differently for us. We might be missing a few players, but we won’t be lacking in endeavour.”
The Portugal squad arrived in Manaus last night and were greeted by heavy rain and hundreds of cheering fans. Bento will put his charges through their paces at the Arena Amazonia this evening, before finalising his team and tactics for the showdown with the Americans, one the Portuguese cannot afford to lose.