Quarter-finals: France – Colombia – Belgium – Costa Rica
World Cup progress: Group stage
Team rating: 4
Top scorer: Nani, Ronaldo, Varela (1)
It was supposed to be a celebratory homecoming of sorts but now it’s all over as a hapless and toothless Portugal petered out in the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, writes Terrance Ross.
Embarrassment for Bento’s boys
Coach Paulo Bento’s unimaginative squad selections and dearth of any real tactical analysis was on full display in Brazil has his hapless Portuguese team returned to Lisbon earlier than they imagined, embarrassed and ashamed.
On paper perhaps the results were not so horrible. Portugal finished with four points in a difficult group only losing on goal difference to the United States in the end. But on the pitch Portugal looked like a complete disaster.
A half-fit Ronaldo struggled throughout the tournament, and the relative incompetence of some of his teammates didn’t help. Their sheer over-reliance on the Real Madrid man hurt them as well. Repeatedly, attacking players would find themselves in great positions then get caught between either passing it to Ronaldo or having a go themselves. Usually this quick second of indecision would lead to them losing the ball or making an errant pass, much to the chagrin of the Ballon d’Or Winner. That was Portugal’s campaign.
But so many things could have gone different for the Portuguese. HugoAlmeida’s injury forced Bento to use an unfit Eder up top, himself having missed most of the season with a ligament injury and, despite some good energy, Eder looked out of his depth at times. Pepe’s moment of madness against Germany effectively sealed their fate as well, not only for his absence against the United States, but for the goals Germany netted against them that ultimately proved decisive.
Portugal also missed Fabio Coentrao’s marauding runs down the flank, which usually opens up space for Ronaldo, not to mention his crossing ability as well. Joao Moutinho, usually relied upon to pull the strings in midfield, looked lost while his midfield partners Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso did noting to impress. In fact it was only Sporting Lisbon’s starlet, defensive midfielder William Carvalho, who really did well in the midfield. He was imposing and assured when he came on against the US.
In Brazil, the team seemed to lack any semblance of team spirit. Whilst the squad’s continued message pre-tournament that they were not there to win the competition could have been to lower expectations, at no point did Portugal make anyone believe they had a shot at anything.
The Coach – Paulo Bento
The fact that Portugal have already extended Paulo Bento’s contract until 2016 does not bode well for the future. Not only did he start off the campaign by ignoring the in-form Ricardo Quaresma, he refused to play William Carvalho and Vieirinha who both looked lively when they finally got significant time on the pitch against Ghana. Admittedly though, injuriesandsuspensions to three starters severely affected his plans, but there was never indication that Portugal had any real spirit about them.
Player of the Tournament – William Carvalho
Not the easiest selection after the disaster of a tournament for Portugal but at least future star midfielder William Carvalho finally got to play on the big stage. In the next few years William is expected to grow in stature and Europe’s big clubs are already on alert as he is poised for a big money move this summer. In his limited time on the pitch William showed everything that his biggest fans already know, he was strong in tackle, and physically imposing as always.
Pepe’s headbutt and subsequent red card against Thomas Muller in the first half against Germany was the effective death knell to Portugal’s World Cup hopes.
For a complete review of the 2014 World Cup, check out the next issue of Soccer Italia, written by the team at Football Italia and available on worldwide subscription.