To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.The Group of Near Death has three really solid teams. Today's preview focuses on the underachiever of the bunch.
PortugalGroup G THE BASICS
Selecção das Quina (Team of the Five Shields)
Red, Green and White
•How They Got Here:
Finished second behind Denmark in their European qualifying group, beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 in a two-leg playoff.
•World Cup Pedigree:
4 World Cups ('66, '86, '02, '06), finished third once and fourth onceTHE PLOT
Can Europe's most attractive team show that they have more than just fancy passing and magazine cover boys and actually make some waves at this stage?THE DIRECTOR
One of the finest technical minds in all of soccer, but has questionable leadership/motivational skills. In an international set-up, the later skills are almost more important. Quieroz might be well known to many in America, as he was not only the second-in-command for Manchester United for many years, but he helped develop the Project 2010 plan in the United States and coached the New York/New Jersey Metrostars.LEADING MAN
There's probably not a whole lot that you don't already know about soccer's most glamorous and written-about player. He's a talismanic goal scorer and a terrible diver. He's known the world over for his tremendous speed and his tragic usage of hair gel. According to unofficial (and potentially invented) stats, he broke the Real Madrid team record for most step-overs attempted with 6,398. Half of those came in one game against Barcelona.SUPPORTING CAST
Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha, better known as Nani
(winger, Manchester United) is sort of like Ronaldo-lite and was brought to Manchester United as a replacement -- he sure nailed the impression of C-Ron's flopping and quick feet;Deco
(midfielder, Chelsea) will be this team's creative rock in the middle of the pitch;Raul Meireles
(midfielder, Porto) is a workhorse box-to-box midfielder just as apt to make a great tackle as an important goal;Pepe
(defender, Real Madrid) was recently cleared to play after sitting on the bench injured for all of 2010;Ricardo Carvalho
(defender, Chelsea) is one of the strongest and sturdiest central defenders on the planet.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR(s)
The Sporting Lisbon duo play a very stacked position for Portugal (defensive midfielder) but their youth (24 and 23), speed and talent will have them vying for starting spots before this tournament is over. And moves away from Portugal are probably in their future as well.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
. Soccer's pretty boy is also soccer's most notorious flopper. He could single-handedly turn a great game into a cheap free-kick match.PRODUCTION NOTES
Portugal is a team that fancies midfield possession and, as such, will likely field a 4-1-2-3 with the two forward wingers dropping into their half and surging forward. In theory, it will lead to a lot of goals. But this isn't what happened during qualifying.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Mission: Impossible III
At some point in time, every franchise runs out of steam/players. Even franchises that have impeccable, money-making leading men, like Tom Cruise or Cristiano Ronaldo. "MI" stopped short of being respectable the third time around, will Portugal do the same?TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
According to a recent count, Portugal leads the world in per capita alcohol consumption. Which is nothing short of astonishing.CRITICAL BLURBS
Portugal are often considered the Brazilians of Europe. After all, the countries both speak Portuguese and most of the players have a single moniker they are known by. But the comparisons really stop there. While Portugal has many fancy players who would be at home in Brazil's yellow jerseys, they are a very hard team. Remember the 2006 World Cup? Portugal beat The Netherlands 1-0 in a game that featured 25 fouls, 8 yellow cards and four ejections and then dispatched England on penalties in a game that saw 31 fouls and a Wayne Rooney red card. ... Their set-up will lead to lots of midfield possession, but maybe not a lot of goals. ... A dark horse to win it all. ... It's an absolute must that Cristiano Ronaldo have a strong tournament. ...Best-case scenario?
Getting out of the group in first place with a rematch against The Netherlands in the quarterfinals that could really go either way. ...Realistic prediction?
Finishing behind Brazil in the group and losing to the more talented Spaniards in the round of 16.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
It wouldn't get any bigger than (in Europe anyway) than Spain and Portugal in the Round of 16. (As an added bonus, the winner of that game would face the easiest path to the finals, with likely an aging Italy and out of form Germany/Argentina in their way.) The game would be epic and would feature probably four of the world's best 10 players. With the game hanging in the balance and both sides sitting on two goals apiece, Cristiano Ronaldo is fouled 30 yards out from goal. He does his signature wide-legged stance, glaring a hole into the ball. Spain sets their wall, with Iker Casillas barking out orders. Ronaldo calmly exhales and begins his run. He strikes the ball using the top of his boot, it lifts and starts knuckling. Dipping. Casillas dives to his right. The ball keeps moving toward the far post. Casillas stretches his fingertips. The ball eludes them and bangs off the inside of the cross bar, angling down and over the goal line. Writers and commentators struggle to find the words to explain the beauty of the shot. The next day, YouTube crashes as the world re-watches the goal.
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
Group F: New Zealand
Group G: North Korea
, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook