We all know that Portugal are offensively strong but if they are to progress any further then the group stage of Euro 2012 then the stars in their back line will need to shine as well. Here are the players who are expected to make a name for themselves this summer:
Star man – Cristiano Ronaldo
Age: 27, Caps: 90, Goals: 32
The Real Madrid winger is widely regarded as one of the world’s best players and he will go into the Euros after arguably his best ever season from an individual point of view. After his rich goal scoring exploits for Real Madrid, Portuguese football supporters will hope he has enough left in the tank for one final surge. All eyes will be on him and everyone will be expecting him to finally have a great performance in an international tournament with his National Team. Portugal’s hopes to defy the odds and progress to the knockout stages will be in a way dependent of what Cristiano Ronaldo can produce.
One to watch – Rui Patricio
Age: 24, Caps: 11
Rui Patricio is one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in Europe and has become Portugal’s new star. Blessed with great reflexes and concentration Patricio has taken the number one shirt from Eduardo and could easily be Portugal’s most important player in the competition. Most famed for his save from a Joe Hart header in stoppage time of the Europa League Patricio has already attracted the attention of Manchester United and Arsenal despite being virtually unknown outside of Portugal. The 23-year-old played for Portugal at every level from the under-19s upwards before making his debut as a second-half substitute in the surprise 4-0 win over Spain in November 2010.
Young talent – Nelson Oliveira
Age: 20, Caps: 3
Nelson Oliveira is one of the bright young prospects to emerge from Portuguese football and is very highly regarded by both club and country. Oliveira has impressed at the youth level guiding Portugal to a runners’ up finish at the U-20 World Cup finals held in Colombia, where he also picked up the Silver ball award for being adjudged the second best player in the tournament. He certainly has the looks and the potential of developing into a fine player in the future. Having already broken into the Benfica first team he will be hoping to make a mark for Portugal as well. He will gain vital experience at the Euros which can only aid in the development of this potentially world class striker.
He has virtually no chance of being handed the starting berth at the Euros with illustrious names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida ahead of him in the pecking order for the position of the striker. However, he can be used as a wildcard by manager Paulo Bento as he is pretty much an unknown quantity outside of Portugal and can spring a surprise or two for the opposition defenders. Making it to the Euro squad represents a huge achievement in itself for Oliveira and if he can contribute with goal or two if he is called upon it can act as a catalyst towards a successful career for the young man.
Unsung hero – Nani
Age: 25, Caps: 54, Goals: 13
Only a bit-part player at Euro 2008, absent at South Africa World Cup in 2010 – it seems fair to say that Nani’s international career has yet to hit the heights. However, his excellent technique and speed are well-suited to football at this level and he has impressed in recent years in a Portugal shirt. His contribution to Euro 2012 qualification was curtailed by injury (though he still notched four goals), but he has 12 goals in 52 appearances for his country and is a key member of the squad that will travel to Poland and the Ukraine.
Valuable asset – Raul Meireles
Age: 29, Caps: 56, Goals: 8
The versatile midfielder has been in top form for Chelsea and ended the season with both the FA Cup and the Champions League to his name. Meireles scored six goals and provided six assists in 45 games for the west London side. His reliable passing and good ball control make him a valuable asset for any team. He also left an indelible mark in the Euro Qualifiers, scoring two goals for the national team. If Meireles is able to produce the same magic for Portugal that he does in the Premier league thenhe is sure to create a lot of problems for defenders throughout the competition.
Point to prove – Pepe
Age: 29, Caps: 39, Goals: 2
The defender has enjoyed a great run at Real Madrid however Portugal’s qualifying campaign, and warm-up matches, were a defensive disaster. Pepe will be the key defender for the Portuguese and his performances will affect the outcomes of their group matches and the back line on the Selecção’s weak spot. Playing alongside Madrid team mate Coentrão and Zaragoza’s Bruno Alves, Pepe will have to take charge of the defensive unit to ensure that they concede as few games as possible against their formidable group teams.
Golden oldie – Bruno Alves
Age: 30, Caps: 50, Goals: 5
Not too long ago Bruno Alves was in danger of seeing his career nosedive into a nondescript story of a promising defender who was let down by an inability to control his temperament. At 1.87m he is almost invincible in the air, and as well as a fearsome defender Alves is more than happy to add his considerable weight to the attack where he is a potent weapon at corners and set-pieces.
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