Midfield playmaker sorely lacking for Portugal

Midfield playmaker sorely lacking for Portugal

Published Jun. 7, 2012 1:02 p.m. ET

Required: a midfield playmaker. Job: setting up much-needed goals. Apply: Portugal.

The vacant No. 10 jersey is a nagging absence in the Portuguese team and, along with the lack of an on-form striker, it's one of the reasons Portugal looks toothless as it heads into its opening match against Germany on Saturday in Group B at the European Championship.

The Portuguese are coming off a three-game winless streak which exposed their shortcomings, with just one goal scored.

The linchpin position has been unoccupied since Deco retired from international football after the 2010 World Cup, where Portugal finished fourth.


Before Brazilian-born Deco brought his drive and vision to Portugal, the No. 10 jersey was the unchallenged property of Rui Costa whose guile and silky footwork helped Portugal to the Euro 2004 final.

Now, though, the cupboard's bare. The current squad has no top-class playmaker - someone like Germany's Mesut Oezil - to orchestrate the attack.

Add to that the absence of a productive center forward and the reasons for Portugal's recent goalscoring difficulties become clear.

There's plenty of flair and ball skills in the Portuguese team. Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani carve out space on the wings, running full-tilt at defenses and cutting inside before unleashing long-range shots or finely-weighted crosses.

Nani was back in full training Thursday after nursing a bruised right foot this week.

But there is a gaping hole where the pivotal playmaker should be.

Coach Paulo Bento initially eyed Carlos Martins for the role but the Granada midfielder pulled out of the tournament due to injury last month.

Bento has manufactured a makeshift solution, with Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles sharing duties in the attacking midfield role.

''We're all here to give our best, no matter what position we're playing in,'' Moutinho said this week at Portugal's training camp in western Poland. ''The coach decides where to put us to get the best results.''

Moutinho, though workmanlike, has been inconsistent and lacks inventiveness. He was left out of Portugal's 2010 World Cup squad and, having only played in the Portuguese league at FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon, can appear overwhelmed on big occasions.

Meireles is resourceful and a stout defender, but lacks a light touch. Hugo Viana, brought in to replace Martins, is a stopgap.

The void at the heart of Portugal's attack is widely blamed for its recent monochrome performances. It looked tame in 0-0 draws against Poland and Macedonia and a 3-1 home loss against Turkey.

If no player steps up to take the mantle of the No. 10 jersey, and if its strikers keep misfiring, Portugal could have a brief stay at Euro 2012.