World football and tactics lead writer Sam Tighe believes Portugal will come out of the World Cup group G unscathed.
Welcome to the latest in a new series where we will take a tactical dive and explore each and every one of the 32 qualified World Cup teams.
Next up is Portugal, a team who scraped into the tournament proper courtesy of a European playoff victory over Sweden.
Qualifying was an absolute mess for Portugal, as they ended up finishing second in Group F behind Fabio Capello’s Russia.
They managed to draw three games and lose one despite being placed alongside minnows Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland and Luxembourg, and had to come from behind to steal a last-minute 3-3 draw in Tel-Aviv to keep their hopes of a playoff alive at one stage.
They eventually came through a testing tie against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden at the last hurdle, capping yet another campaign in which they squeezed into a major international tournament by the skin of their teeth.
Formation and Style
Manager Paulo Bento has been devoted to the 4-3-3 formation for several years now and used it throughout the qualifying campaign.
It served him well during Euro 2012 where he utilised what was essentially the prototypical, modern definition of the system, and it’s geared toward offensive/defensive balance and speed in attack.
While utilising the 4-3-3, Miguel Veloso would play as the deepest midfielder—the anchor, although his skill set doesn’t match up to the role—with Raul Meireles and JoaoMoutinho buzzing around ahead of him.
Veloso’s deep position allows the full-backs to bomb forward and overlap, clearing the path for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to cut in off the flanks.
Heavy rotation at centre-forward has seen CR7 play with a number of target men, withHelder Postiga, Hugo Almeida and Nelson Oliveira all playing several games each.
The 4-3-3 worked like a charm in 2012, but in 2013 Portugal have had some issues in breaking stubborn teams down and mediating the distance between the lines in defence, midfield and attack.
Bento switched to a 4-2-3-1 template (of sorts) for the playoff versus Sweden, withMoutinho the man chosen to play further forward as a No. 10. It worked, given that they qualified convincingly, but pushing Moutinho forward doesn’t bring the best out in him.
Reasons for Hope
They have one gargantuan reason for hope in the form of Ronaldo, 2013′s best player in all of football.
He plays in his favoured left-forward role and prospers next to any of the strikersBento picks, as Portugal’s entire system is predicated on freeing up CR7 so he can damage the opposition.
Playing as a striker for this team doesn’t even come with theprerequisite of scoring goals, for as long as you can attract markers and keep them from double- or triple-marking Ronaldo, you’re doing your job.
The Real Madrid connection between CR7 and Fabio Coentrao is also a wonderful watch when both players are in full flow, as they enjoy a near-telekinetic understanding.
Coentrao plays his best football in Portugal colours because Bento understands how to utilise him to the best of his abilities, and there are few full-backs in world football who can do as much damage in the final third as he can when in form.
Joao Pereira brings balance to that double-headed assault by playing a measured right-back role, and Moutinho is among the best in the business at dictating from a central position.
Reason for Concern
It’s unclear as to why, but this Portugal side tended to fade over the course of 90 minutes during qualifying.
Central defence is also a big worry, as Pepe is no longer guaranteed first-team football at Real Madrid and Bruno Alves is well past his best. Bento has exercised other options to a certain degree, but Jose Fonte’s wonderful form for Southampton continues to be ignored.
If A Seleccao adopt the 4-3-3 they’ll be grinding out games and relying on Ronaldo, but if the 4-2-3-1 continues they face a struggle to find an appropriate No. 10 to lead the midfield.
Danny, of Zenit St. Petersburg, is an obvious choice and he should have been used more during qualifying, but is he the talisman Portugal need?
Conclusions and Predictions
Portugal landed a very tough group (Germany, Ghana and the U.S.), and while some are suggesting this is exactly what they need to motivate themselves from the get-go, tournament football is a forte.
There is a key question for Bento still to answer at defensive midfield: Does Velosocontinue despite not being a natural fit, will Fernando be naturalised and started or will William Carvalho emerge as the go-to guy this season?
The answer could go a long way to shaping how far this side go, but at the very least stand in a favourable position to get out of Group H.