Portugal out, and one man in particular has played a major role.

The history of Portuguese football is one of the great mysteries of the international game. They have never made a great impression on the world stage and their best tournament finish was to be losing finalists in their own European Championships in 2004. This seems like an unbelievable statistic when you consider that they have consistently produced great players. How can a nation that has spawned Eusebio, Luis Figo, Pauleta, Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes not have made more of an impact in major tournaments?

It is in fact, the great names that provide the main clue as to why Portugal have never been ultimately successful. For all the legendary names that have rolled off the production line, there has never been a great team.

The current crop of Portugal players could have been lifted out of any era in the history of the national team. They are a workmanlike squad interspersed with the odd flair player and one genuine superstar. You may have wondered why I left Cristiano Ronaldo out of the aforementioned list of Portugal’s great players. The fact is, he stands alone as the greatest player to come from the Iberian peninsula. No Portuguese player can match what Ronaldo has achieved in his career. At 29 he has 50 international goals making him his country’s record scorer, he has won the Champions League twice, been named world player of the year twice, invented a way of taking free kicks and between his spells for Manchester United and Real Madrid, has plundered nearly 400 goals. Lionel Messi’s advocates will point to the outstanding world cup that the little Argentine is enjoying but for me Ronaldo is, just, the better of the two.

On the eve of the tournament few would have had Portugal down as favourites. Ronaldo aside it would have been hard to name a quality player in their final 23. The odd flair players I referred to, Nani and Moutinho are inconsistent at the highest level. Yet with Ronaldo in their ranks it was impossible to ignore their claims as dark horses. There is no such thing in sport as a one man team but there was a feeling that Portugal could be carried into at least the last eight on the back of Ronaldo’s magic.

Unfortunately, Ronaldo picked up an injury to his knee during a training camp. Whilst the injury was not believed to be serious, images of Ronaldo leaving training with his knee strapped in ice on a regular basis would have made for unsettling viewing back home. The forward played in all three group games but it was clear that he was struggling for full fitness. He was visibly hindered in every game and subsequently he proved to be more hindrance than help to his team.

Ironically, he was undoubtedly the star performer for Portugal in this campaign. In the dismal defeat to Germany he looked like the only player in red capable of attacking the resolute German back line. Against the USA he provided a delicious cross to set up the last gasp equaliser for Silvestre Varela and he also netted the winner against Ghana.

However, these were isolated moments of quality and his lack of fitness meant that he was often behind the play. Unfortunately for him, his team mates seemed unable to comprehend that they needn’t rely solely on Ronaldo in order to win. Whilst Group G was difficult, Portugal should still have been able to qualify in second place. The fact that they didn’t was down to the shadow cast by Ronaldo. Every time Portugal surged forward, their players seemed paralysed with fear and seemed eager to offload to their talisman as soon as possible. No player dared to pass forward or to take on a defender. Every pass went either square or backwards to wherever Ronaldo’s struggling knee allowed him to be.

The Portugal players forgot that they were in fact international footballers capable of taking on other international teams and instead decided that their most viable tactic would be to find Ronaldo at every available opportunity. Such slavish deference to one player is not becoming of a world cup finalist. Only Uruguay and their dependence on Luis Suarez came close to Portugal’s hero worshipping mentality.

Had Ronaldo been fully fit and able to surge into the penalty box with and without the ball as is his wont, the tactic might have worked. Portugal might have beaten both USA and Ghana (Germany always looked to be too strong) and would now be preparing for a very evenly poised second round match with Belgium. As it turned out, Ronaldo was not able to influence games in the manner he has become accustomed to and Portugal have left the tournament with barely a whimper.

Though Ronaldo will be disappointed with his return of one goal and one assist, it is not his fault that Portugal have been knocked out. However, the yawning chasm in class between himself and his team has been at the centre of their problems.

Advertisements

Portugal Team Preview

The Players

Eduardo goalkeeper, Braga

Bruno Alves defender, Fenerbahçe

Pepe defenderReal Madrid

Miguel Veloso midfielder, Dynamo Kyiv

Fábio Coentrão defender, Real Madrid

William Carvalho midfielder, Sporting

Cristiano Ronaldo (captain) forward, Real Madrid

João Moutinho midfielder, Monaco

Hugo Almeida forward, Besiktas

10 Vieirinha midfielder, Wolfsburg

11 Éder forward, Braga

12 Rui Patrício goalkeeper, Sporting

13 Ricardo Costa defender, Valencia

14 Luís Neto defender, Zenit Saint Petersburg

15 Rafa Silva midfielder, Braga

16 Raul Meireles midfielder, Fenerbahce

17 Nani midfielder, Manchester United

18 Silvestre Varela midfielder, Porto

19 André Almeida defender, Benfica

20 Rúben Amorim midfielder, Benfica

21 João Pereira defender, Valencia

22 Beto goalkeeper, Sevilla

23 Hélder Postiga forward, Lazio

Star man

Cristiano+Ronaldo+Portugal+v+Netherlands+Group+ec2pbt0nlj5l

Cristiano Ronaldo will carry the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders, plus a Louis Vuitton man-bag packed with an astonishing quantity of hair gel. His brilliant second-leg hat-trick made the difference for Portugal in their play-off against Sweden

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Real Madrid centre-half Pepe was banned for 10 games in 2009 for kicking a Getafe player who had fallen to the floor twice and slapping another. Three years later he walked into a referee’s dressing room after a 1-1 draw with Villarreal and called him a “swindling motherf—–“.

The coach

With his silver-flecked hair and Portugueseness, Paulo Bento is an ersatz José Mourinho, albeit without the same glint in the eye. He impressed by leading Portugal to the last four at Euro 2012, but qualification for the World Cup was more of a struggle.

Grudge match

The Battle of Nuremberg in 2006 has lost none of its entertainment value in the past eight years. Portugal might have beaten Holland 1-0 to reach the last eight in 2006 but this was more of a brawl in a city centre on a Saturday night than a football match, with both sides having two men sent off and the referee, Valentin Ivanov, having to show 16 yellow cards. Sixteen!

Holed up

Owned by 82-year-old Portuguese-born biscuit baron Armindo Dias, The Palms is the exclusive – that’s just 116 rooms – boutique hotel hidden in a corner of a massive resort. Not only have they forced all staff to sign contracts banning them from requesting autographs, there are reports of special treatment being offered to one CR9: his own VIP suite complete with scented pillows, chamomile and caramel are a popular choice, six bodyguards and heated mirrors that do not steam up.

How they qualified
Defeat in Moscow and draws with Israel, twice, and Northern Ireland left them with a tough play-off tie against Sweden, which almost went topsy-turvy in Stockholm until Cristiano Ronaldo in dazzling style scored twice in two minutes to complete his hat-trick and drag them through, clinging to his coat-tails.

World Cup high
Third in 1966, with Eusebio, the darling of Goodison Park, winning the golden boot with nine goals, his eighth coming in the semi-final defeat b yEngland and, specifically, Bobby Charlton.

World Cup low
Beat England in their first group game in Mexico in 1986 only then to lose to both Poland and Morocco and the ‘golden generation’ were dumped out in 2002 by co-hosts South Korea and their Beatlemania-revival, screeching fans.

Familiar faces
Nani (Manchester United) and his former-team-mate/global-brand, CR7.

Title odds
25-1

The stereotype is …
One-man band, Ronaldo single-handedly driving his extravagantly-tattooed team-mates through a combination of individual brilliance, cajoling by example and grandiose petulance.

The reality is … 
Surprisingly vulnerable at the back given their pedigree and Bento’s tastes as a club coach and player but capable of swift, fluid counter-attacking waves all in service of Ronaldo, who is more conductor and principal soloist than entire orchestra.

What they’re known for?
Port 27 per cent
Narcissistic managers 41 per cent
Shellfish detritus in soup 13 per cent
Hello! features at home with Sir Cliff Richard 19 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Kiss the soil thy jocund, the ocean roaring of love, and your arm, the winner, gave new worlds to the world.

Duration
Long enough at 1min 22sec to let Brazil fans put their hands on hips and sigh “so you discovered us did you?”

How to dress like their fans

spf21
Red, green or gold vests, Glastonbury-style jester’s hats and acres of cotton wool to drown out the sound of the weapon with the bass drum.

Commentator’s go-to fact
After Manoel II, Portugal’s last king, was deposed in 1910, he lived in exile in Twickenham and although he died at the age of 42 he was godfather to more than 300 children.