Rui Costa led the so-called
golden generation and Deco masterminded Luiz Felipe Scolari's
more combative side but now there is a big hole in the Portugal
For the first time since they re-emerged as a force in
international football at Euro 96, Portugal are playing without
a recognised playmaker.
What was seen as a weakness, however, as they lost their
opening match 1-0 to Germany, has been turned to their advantage
by passionate coach Paulo Bento.
Bento has come up with an intriguing solution which produced
exciting results as Portugal beat Denmark 3-2 and the
Netherlands 2-1 to make the last eight of Euro 2012, creating a
hatful of chances along the way.
Portugal field Miguel Veloso in front of the back four with
Raul Meireles on his right and Joao Moutinho on his left in a
three-man midfield which takes the form of a triangle.
Those three have proved adept at getting the ball swiftly
and efficiently to the wings where Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani,
who have the dual roles of creators and finishers, can do the
damage. Centre-forward Helder Postiga completes a three-man
In many ways, the style suits Portugal better than a
string-pulling playmaker who could slow things down in midfield
as he seeks to dictate the rhythm of the game.
With five goals in their last two games and Ronaldo clearly
determined to shake off his reputation for misfiring in
international tournaments, Portugal are starting to suggest they
could end their run of near misses at major finals.
Beaten finalists at Euro 2004, semi-finalists four years
earlier and World Cup semi-finalists in 2006, Portugal have a
remarkably good record for a small country where the local
league is over-run by South American imports.
Some credit must go to former coach Scolari who, during
nearly six years in charge, gave the Portuguese a cutting edge
which had been missing from Rui Costa's golden generation of the
Scolari's departure after Portugal reached the
quarter-finals at Euro 2008, however, left something of a void
and his successor Carlos Queiroz proved an ill-fated choice to
Portugal scraped into the 2010 World Cup after a troubled
qualifying campaign and scored in just one of four games on
their way to a second-round exit, a very poor performance for a
team with an attacking tradition.
They made a disastrous start to Euro 2012 qualifying with a
4-4 home draw against Cyprus followed by defeat by Norway, and
Queiroz, by now deeply unpopular, was dismissed after being
found guilty of obstructing the work of an anti-doping team.
Bento, a defensive midfielder in his playing days, picked up
the pieces and, despite clashes which led to the exclusion of
defenders Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho, Portugal qualified
via the back door, beating Bosnia in a two-leg playoff in which
they won the home leg 6-2.
After disappointing warm-up games and amid criticism that
their accommodation was too opulent for a team representing an
austerity-hit country, Portugal are now back in favour with the
critics back home.
"We reached our first target in a brilliant manner, with
very good collective organisation in the three matches we
played," said Bento, playing down Ronaldo's outstanding
individual performance against the Dutch.
"We have an identity which we have built with our ideas and
the players. We reached the quarter-finals, we played well and
we are through from a group including the World Cup runners-up
and the team that came third."
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