Portugal in crisis ahead of Euro 2012

AFP, Monday 4 Jun 2012

Portugal launch their bid in Euro 2012 when they face Poland on Monday amidst doubts that they can progress from the so-called 'Group of Death'

Portugal's national soccer team (Photo: Reuters)

Portugal travel to Poland on Monday with their morale at a low ebb and few at home believing they are capable of progressing from the so-called "Group of Death" at Euro 2012.

The Euro 2004 finalists -- who struggled to qualify for the finals and only booked their place through a play-off -- were left with jeers and whistles ringing in their ears after losing Saturday's friendly 3-1 to Turkey.

Their first defeat at the Stadium of Light since the Euro 2004 final defeat by Greece followed mediocre displays in two goalless draws with Euro co-hosts Poland and Macedonia.

With their opening match against one of the favourites for the title Germany first up on Saturday and further group matches against the Dutch and the Danes, who edged them in their qualifying group it is understandable that confidence is not high.

The Portuguese media reflected the sense of alarm: "Shame at the Stadium of Light", "Alarming farewell", "There is work to do" and "a defence that makes one worried," were the headlines that greeted the squad after the Turkish defeat.

Coach Paulo Bento risks having as unhappy a time this Euro as at his last one as a player in 2000, where he was suspended for abusing and intimidating match officials after a stormy extra-time semi-final loss to eventual champions France.

Bento, who turns 43 on June 20 and will be the youngest coach at the finals, may be regretting dispensing with veteran centreback Ricardo Carvalho and Chelsea's Champions League winning fullback Jose Bosingwa after they fell out.

For Carvalho's Real Madrid team-mate Pepe and Bruno Alves were extremely unsteady in the centre of defence against the lively Turks, raising fears among Portuguese supporters at what damage the Germans and the Dutch attacks could do to them.

Almost as alarming is the lack of creativity in midfield. With playmaker Carlos Martins injured, the onus has fallen on the hardworking, if unspectacular duo, of Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho to become the creative force.

However, it fell on their one superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, to drift into midfield and create the goal for Nani against the Turks but the Real Madrid star later missed a penalty -- just as he did against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final.

Bento's experiment, however, of playing Ronaldo in the centre of midfield is unlikely to be continued as he gave an insipid performance in the draw with Macedonia.

Up front also the veteran pair of Hugo Almeida and Helder Postiga hardly inspired confidence but Bento has really only the untried 20-year-old Benfica youngster Nelson Oliveira as back up.

Despite all these blows -- and worries as to whether Nani will miss his second successive major finals after he went off with a bruised right foot in the Turkey game -- Ronaldo is confident that things will be different once they face Germany.

"This black sea will change and become a positive wave," said Ronaldo, as Bento denied that there had been a "loss of confidence".

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