Euro 2012: Portugal looks to Ronaldo for success
Cristiano Ronaldo makes a big difference for Portugal.
When an ankle injury kept him out of Portugal’s first two
European Championship qualifying games, the team drew at home
against Cyprus and lost to Norway. When the captain returned,
Portugal racked up a five-game winning streak that put it back in
Portugal’s problem, however, is that the squad lacks depth and,
beyond Ronaldo, top-class talent in some key positions.
As with previous greats Eusebio and Luis Figo, Ronaldo’s
presence lifts the team a notch. The Real Madrid forward was
Portugal’s top scorer in its qualifying campaign, with seven goals
in eight games, and is the country’s third-highest scorer with 32
goals in 87 appearances.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento, mindful of the weight on Ronaldo’s
shoulders, is eager to stop the expectations from becoming a
”We’re going to avoid putting pressure on any one player,”
Bento said. ”We know what value, talent and commitment Ronaldo has
given us but we won’t put him under pressure to resolve the team’s
That may be easier said than done for a team that so far hasn’t
looked like one of the continent’s best despite being ranked fifth
in the world by FIFA. Portugal is the odd one out in what is
arguably the tournament’s toughest group as rivals Germany, the
Netherlands and Denmark are all past winners of the tournament
while the Portuguese are still chasing their first international
Portugal came close to collecting its first silverware at Euro
2004, when it lost to Greece in the final. At the 2006 World Cup,
it reached the semifinals. Since then, it has rarely impressed.
Perhaps Portugal’s biggest shortcoming is the absence of a
world-class center forward. Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida have
had disappointing seasons at their clubs but they have remained
first-choice strikers in a Portugal team that gets most of its
goals from midfield players. The pair together scored seven goals –
the same as Ronaldo – in qualifying.
When Ronaldo is absent Portugal looks to Nani, who missed the
2010 World Cup because of injury. But the winger, despite some
spectacular goals, hasn’t made the same impact as Ronaldo with
Portugal or Manchester United.
There is also a question mark over the right back and left back
positions. Fabio Coentrao has been inconsistent on the left of Real
Madrid’s defense, while Sporting Lisbon right back Joao Pereira is
seen as a lightweight. There is no obvious replacement for either
The most encouraging development for Portugal is Bento’s career
as national coach.
When he replaced Carlos Queiroz in September 2010 after Portugal
earned only one point from its first two qualifiers, Bento’s only
previous senior coaching experience was at Sporting Lisbon between
But Portugal recorded five straight victories after he took
charge. And crucially, Ronaldo regained his goal touch under Bento.
Ronaldo scored three times in his first four appearances under
Bento after finding the net only twice – once from the penalty spot
– in 18 matches with Queiroz.
Bento has also broadened the squad by trying out a series of
uncapped players and has recalled others sidelined under his
”The change (of coach) brought new blood and a change of
mentality, and Paulo Bento should be congratulated,” Ronaldo
Despite the improvements, Bento, a former defensive midfielder
who played for Portugal at Euro 2000 and at the 2002 World Cup, is
aware that it’s a big ask at Euro 2012 to get Portugal beyond the
group stage – a hurdle it has never before failed to clear.
”It’s a very difficult group,” Bento conceded. ”We’ll have to
be at our best to reach the following round.”