As the 2012 European Championships come ever closer, Bleacher Report continues it’s extensive, in-depth coverage of the teams involved.
Here, we will take a look at Portugal in order to ascertain how they’ll play, who their key players are and what makes them tick.
Head coach Paulo Bento has made big strides during his short tenure so far, securing qualification to the tournament in dramatic fashion—a 6-2 away win against Bosnia and Herzegovina sealed their passage.
Anything was going to look better than Carlos Queiroz’s reign, but Bento made one critical observation and took advantage of it.
Make Cristiano Ronaldo happy, and see your team prosper.
Here’s how Portugal will likely line up for their first game against Germany on June 9 in Lviv.
People throw the phrase "4-3-3" around, but Paulo Bento employs one of the purest versions of this formation you’ll see in football.
He plays a genuine front three—the likes of which we’ve seen from FC Porto over the last decade or so—with devastating results. The graphic displays how Portugal may look when on the attack.
In the 2010 World Cup, Fabio Coentrao stole the headlines and was Portugal’s best player. He was allowed to maraud up and down the left side of the pitch and caught the eye on many occasions.
This stifled Ronaldo, but Bento has found a way to utilise them both. For this reason, a lot of the excitement happens down Portugal’s left side.
Ronaldo has the ability to stretch defences. He can take them down the line and widen the gaps between players or he can cut inside with deadly effect.
Quite often, you’ll see sides hit a "brick wall" of sorts when they enter the final third, but that’s not the case when you’ve got Ronaldo performing as he is.
He attracts double- and sometimes triple-coverage. As a result, his team can take advantage of this and create overloads in the central areas, particularly on the edge of the penalty box.
Raul Meireles, Carlos Martins and Ruben Micael were all able to score in this fashion during the qualifying campaign and in friendly matches.
Portugal play a relatively high line, which is susceptible to pacey attacks.
Under Carlos Queiroz, they managed to concede four against Cyprus with the long ball simply killing them. Bento has repaired some of this damage, but a quick, incisive attack would see the flat-footed Bruno Alves and Pepe in trouble.
They do have an insurance policy, as Miguel Veloso—or whoever sits deep in the midfield—is able to cover for the marauding full-backs. However, you get the impression that a few perfect diagonal balls from a Xabi Alonso-esque player could open them right up.
In their warm-up friendly against Macedonia, they were stretched multiple times by an extremely average opposing attack.
If you run at Portugal, they will struggle.