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Portugal Euro 2012: In-depth look at the opposition and new FIFA rankings

The new FIFA world rankings have been released ahead of Euro 2012 and Portugal’s five place drop from fifth to tenth now makes them the lowest ranked team in their group, the group of death.

Group B is undoubtedly the most difficult group in the tournament with four strong teams who have enough quality to qualify for the knock-out stages. The strength of the teams have been recognised by the bookies and Group B has been named the favourite group to produce the eventual trophy winner at 5/4 (all odds included are from bet365.com). Here’s an in-depth look at all four teams:

Denmark – FIFA ranking: 9th

Odds to qualify: 4/1
Odds to win: 80/1

Style of play: Coach Morten Olsen favours a flexible 4-3-3- formation, although he’s also been known to use 4-2-3-1. Regardless of the setup, Denmark makes as much use out of the flanks. The fullbacks get forward as much as possible, and Dennis Rommedahl provides the attack width down the right, while Michael Krohn-Dehli on the left serves as the link between midfield and the front man. Both will try to use their speed before cutting into the box, or serving up crosses for striker Nicklas Bendtner. Operating in the hole behind Bendtner is Christian Eriksen, who pulls the creative strings in the centre of midfield, backed up by two defensive midfielders, William Kvist and Niki Zimling.

Probable starting formation (4-3-3): (GK) Lindegaard – (D) S Poulsen, Kjaer, Agger, Jacobsen – (M) Kvist, Eriksen, Zimling (F) Krohn-Dehli, Bendtner, Rommedahl

Strengths:
Defence –
Led by Daniel Agger, Denmark boasts a very stingy and tough defence. The Danes conceded just six goals in eight qualifying games; it’ll be tough for opponents to break them down.
Best of both worlds – The Danish team is a physical side that has several players, such as Christian Poulsen, who aren’t afraid to mix it up. At the same time, Dennis Rommedahl and others provide the Danes with great technical ability.
Coaching – Morten Olsen has been in charge of the national team for the past 12 years. He’s an astute tactician that has the overwhelming respect of his players. He also has vast international experience, having led Denmark to two World Cups. This is his third European championship.

Weaknesses:
Depth –
Denmark have a solid starting lineup, but once you get past the first eleven, the quality drops off rather drastically. The Danes aren’t blessed with great depth, as most of their bench players are not regular starters for their pro clubs.
The curse of ’92 – The spectre of Euro ’92 and the Danes’ miracle run to the title looms large over the current Danish team, with fans expecting the current side to duplicate the feat and pull off another upset. Constantly being judged against the ’92 team can’t be easy on the players.

Players to watch:
Christian Eriksen –
The 20-year-old central midfielder is one of the brightest prospects in Europe, making up for his slight build with his imaginative and creative play in the centre of midfield.
Nicklas Bendtner – Often derided for his lack of composure in front of goal in the Premiership, Bendtner is much more for prolific for his country, and has international experience.
Daniel Agger – The Liverpool star and Danish captain is vital to his country’s chances for success, providing a sturdy and stabilizing presence in the centre of defence.

Squad: GK: Stephan Andersen, Anders Lindegaard, Kasper Schmeichel, DF: Lars Jacobsen, Michael Silberbauer, Simon Busk Poulsen, Daniel Wass, Simon Kjaer, Daniel Agger, Andreas Bjelland, Jores Okore, MF: William Kvist, Christian Poulsen, Niki Zimling, Jakob Poulsen, Lasse Schone, Christian Eriksen, FW: Dennis Rommedahl, Tobias Mikkelsen, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Thomas Kahlenberg, Nicklas Bendtner, Nicklas Pedersen.
Coach: Morten Olsen

Germany – FIFA ranking: 3rd

Odds to qualify: 1/4
Odds to win: 3/1

Style of play: Coach Joachim Low employs a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that often morphs into 4-3-3. Regradless of the setup, Germany plays a high-tempo, pressing game when not in possession. At the 2010 World Cup they relied on the counter-attack for scoring chances. Now they are much more assertive, using short 1-2 passes and quick ball movement. Fullbacks Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng give the attack width and pace down the wings. In the middle, Sami Khedira shields the back four, while partner Bastian Schweinsteiger directs traffic. In front of them, Mesut Ozil serves as the midfield conductor, flanked by Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller. Up top, Miroslav Klose is the target man, relying on service from the midfield trio.

Probable starting formation (4-2-3-1): (GK) Neuer – (D) Lahm, Badstuber, Hummels, Boateng – (M) Schweinsteiger, Khedira – (M) Podolski, Ozil, Muller (F) Klose

Strengths:
Midfield –
With the exception of Spain, no other team at this tournament is as strong or deep in the middle of the park than Germany. Coach Joachim Low can rely on such world-class talents as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil, and a strong supporting cast that includes Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira.
Youth and experience – Low has picked a roster that has a nice balance of youth (Marco Reus, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil) and experience (Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose).
Hunger – Germany is one of the most successful teams in international soccer, winning the tournament three times and finishing runner-up another three times. But they haven’t won a major tournament since Euro ’96 and they are eager to prove they are on par with Spain as the best team in the world.

Weaknesses:
Defensive issues –
Captain Philip Lahm is one of the best left fullbacks in the game, but Germany are a bit soft in the middle of defence, and coach Joachim Low is far from settled on what his best back four is.
Set pieces – The Germans are far from prolific and proficient from dead ball situations, as they don’t have someone who can deliver a killer free kick into the box.

Players to watch:
Bastian Schweinsteiger –
The Bayern Munich star is the archetypal German midfielder: superb on the ball, physical and tough, creative and visionary. An excellent two-way player, Schweinsteiger is one of the best midfielders in the world, capable of dictating the pace of the game on his own thanks to his wide array of skills.
Mesut Ozil – The Real Madrid playmaker conducts the German attack with a brilliant mix of possession, sublime passing and probing forward runs. And he’s only 23!
Manuel Neur – The Bayern Munich goalkeeper is an excellent shot stopper, combining good reflexes, sound positioning and the ability to make a highlight reel save. He can also start the attack with his excellent distribution skills.

Squad: GK: Manuel Neuer, Tim Wiese, Ron-Robert Zieler, DF: Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Hoewedes, Mats Hummels, Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Marcel Schmelzer, MF: Lars Bender, Mario Goetze, Ilkay Guendogan, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil, Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus, Andre Schuerrle, Bastian Schweinsteiger, FW: Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose.
Coach:
Joachim Low

Netherlands – FIFA ranking: 4th

Odds to qualify: 1/2
Odds to win: 13/2

Style of play: Coach Bert Van Marwijk normally uses a 4-2-3-1 system that stresses attacking soccer built on a solid midfield foundation. Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong are the twin midfield pillars operating in front of the back four, although de Jong does get forward in attack. Wesley Sneijder operates as the midfield creator in the centre of the park, while Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt offer options on the wings, often switching flanks to drag defenders out of position. Up front, Robin van Persie relies on the service of the midfield trio, but will also drop back and create chances for himself.

Probable starting formation (4-2-3-1): (GK) Stekelenburg – (D) Willems, Mathijsen, Heitinga, van der Wiel – (M) van Bommel, de Jong – (M) Kuyt, Sneijder, Robben (F) van Persie

Strengths:
Attack –
The Dutch can score goals (they bagged 37 in 10 qualifying games) and with a wide and deep array of attacking talent, opposing teams are going to have a very difficult time trying to stop them.
Goalkeeping – In Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma), the Dutch have a world-class goalkeeper who plays regular first-team soccer in Serie A. His two backups (Swansea’s Michel Vorm and Newcastle’s Tim Krul) would be starters on any other team. The Dutch have nothing to worry about in goal.
Confidence – The Dutch enter this tournament as one of the favourites for very good reason. They breezed through the qualifiers (nine wins, one loss), are ranked fourth in the world by FIFA and are hungry for success after reaching the 2010 World Cup final.

Weaknesses:
Defence –
The Dutch can score goals, which is a good thing because they also concede them. They lack depth and quality at the back, as central defenders Wilfred Bouma and John Heitinga are past their best, and they don’t have a genuine left-back.
Huntelaar or van Persie? – Coach Bert Van Marwijk uses a 4-2-3-1 formation, which only has room for one striker. So who does he leave it? Robin van Persie, who was the top scorer in the Premiership? Or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who led the Bundesliga in scoring?

Players to watch:
Robin van Persie –
The flying Dutchman was one of the hottest players on the planet this past season, guiding Arsenal to third place in the Premiership and finishing as the league’s top scorer with 30 goals.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – The team’s top scorer in Euro qualifying with 12 goals, the Schalke star also led the Bundesligsa in scoring this past season with a remarkable 29 goals in 32 games.
Arjen Robben – The Bayern Munich winger is coming off a strong campaign, helping the Bavarians reach the Champions League final. Fast, quick on the dribble and with an eye for goal, Robben poses a serious scoring threat every time he nears the 18-yard box.

Squad: GK: Maarten Stekelenburg, Michel Vorm, Tim Krul, DF: Khalid Boulahrouz, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Ron Vlaar, Wilfred Bouma, Gregory van der Wiel, Jetro Willems, MF: Ibrahim Afellay, Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong, Stijn Schaars, Wesley Sneijder, Kevin Strootman, Rafael van der Vaart, FW: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Luuk de Jong, Dirk Kuyt, Luciano Narsingh, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben.
Coach: Bert van Marwijk

Portugal – FIFA ranking: 10th

Odds to qualify: 13/10
Odds to win: 18/1

Style of play: Paulo Bento has used a number of different formations, but he tends to favour a 4-3-3 with a three-pronged attack led by Helder Postiga as the front man, flanked on either side by Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Portugal plays with pace and keeps the ball on the ground at the feet of its speedy players, relying of quick movements down the wings. It’s their job to work the ball up front to Postiga, or to cut into the box from the flanks and create scoring chances for themselves. Miguel Veloso acts as the midfield enforcer in front of the back four, allowing Joao Moutinho to pull the creative strings in the middle of the park, and Raul Meireles to surge forward in attack.

Probable starting formation (4-3-3): (GK) Patricio – (D) Coentrao, Alves, Pepe, Pereira – (M) Meireles, Veloso, Moutinho (F) Nani, Postiga, Ronaldo

Strengths:
Speed
– Portugal plays the game at a breakneck pace, relying on the speedy exploits of Ronaldo and Nani to lead the charge forward. Portugal is a tough to team to stop, especially with their attackers running at full speed and taking on opposing defenders directly.
Attack – Portugal can score goals with the best of them, finding the back of the net 21 times in eight qualifying matches. Although they lack a top-class striker, the Portuguese get plenty of scoring from their wingers and midfielders.
The Ronaldo factor – Although he hasn’t quite duplicated his club form for his country, there’s no doubt that Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world and makes Portugal that much more dangerous. Opponents are going to struggle to close him down.

Weaknesses:
Lack of strikers
– Just think how dangerous Portugal would be if they had a world-class striker. Instead, the absence of a legitimate scoring threat up front puts even more pressure on the wingers and midfielders to conjure goals.
Defence – Portugal have a history of being soft at the back, with players often suffering lapses in concentration and organization, and conceding far too many soft and cheap goals. The absence of experienced defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa leave Portugal even thinner at the back.

Players to watch:
Cristiano Ronaldo
– Who else? Arguably the best player in the world, Ronaldo scored 46 goals in La Liga this past season to help Real Madrid win their first league title in four years. A strong showing by the Portuguese at Euro could tip the voting for the FIFA World Player of the award in his favour over Lionel Messi.
Nani – A key figure for Manchester United, Nani forms a lethal partnership with Ronaldo on the flanks, and burns opposing defenders with his speed, sublime touch on the ball and his mazy runs.
Raul Meireles – A key figure in Chelsea’s Champions League campaign, Meireles is a versatile player (he can slot in anywhere across the midfield) who combines a solid work ethic and great technical ability.

Squad: GK: Rui Patricio, Eduardo, Beto, DF: Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Rolando, Ricardo Costa, Miguel Lopes, MF: Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Micael, Custodio Castro, Hugo Viana, FW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida, Helder Postiga, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma, Silvestre Varela, Nelson Oliveira.
Coach:
Paulo Bento

Conclusion

As much as I hate to say it but it seems Portugal have the slimmest of chances of progressing from the group of death. Along with Denmark the Selecção are unlikely to make it beyond the group stages which is disappointing as both of these teams would probably easily qualify if placed in Group A. However the Portuguese fans do have a small light at the end of the tunnel with the Dutch and Germans both having weak backlines. If Portugal can utilise their strong attacking options, especially on the counter, then there’s a chance that they could make it to the next round.

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