Image from fifa.com
Coming off the back of two successive unfavourable draws at major tournaments (being drawn against Ivory Coast and Brazil in World Cup 2012 and then Germany, Netherlands and Denmark in the 2012 European Championship, both of which were considered the “group of death”) Portuguese fans were hoping that this time around would be easier.
When the balls fell into place at the World Cup 2014 draw, many of those fans rued Portugal’s luck once again – a group of Germany, Ghana and the USA were drawn for Paulo Bento’s Selecção – however, despite not being drawn in one of the tournaments easiest groups, Portugal should have nothing to fear.
For starters, Portugal managed to avoid the tournaments two toughest groups. Group B (Spain, Chile, Netherlands and Australia) and Group D (Italy, Uruguay, England and Costa Rica) are vastly superior, and each of those groups will see a nation with genuine world-class players be eliminated before the knockout rounds begin.
Despite being drawn with Germany (who Portugal also faced in the 2012 European Championship group stage), Bento’s men actually have a very doable group.
Germany’s presence gives Portugal an early taste of an elite team when the two collide in the group opener on June 16 – experience that could be crucial in helping Portugal get to top-gear quickly, while some of the other nations are able to coast through to the knockout rounds.
The truth is, anything Portugal can take from Germany is a bonus. The Germans are, deservedly so, one of the teams touted as potential winners of the tournament, and although anything can happen in football, failing to beat them (or even earn a draw) is hardly the end of the world.
In fact, Portugal lost to Germany in their opening match of the 2012 European Championships only to bounce back with consecutive wins over Denmark and Netherlands and clinch second spot in the group.
And playing Germany first could have the same positive effect on Portugal this time around. The Germans could very well be the best team in the entire tournament, and will have Ronaldo and Co. ready to combat anyone who may cross their path.
Portugal’s second test will come in the form of the USA, while they will close out the group with a match to Ghana. Tough names on paper, but the Portuguese can be confident of success.
The Americans are perhaps more of a self-proclaimed football nation than they are a real threat to anybody. A nation boasting Dempsey and Donovan, two 30-something-year-olds, as their best players should surely not be one for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo to fear.
Likewise, despite Ghana’s run in the last World Cup, Portugal’s actual genuine world-class players such as Ronaldo and Moutinho should prove too much for a nation that doesn’t boast any.
Ghana’s hero in the last tournament, Asamoah Gyan, is now plying his trade in the United Arab Emirates, while formerly-world-class Michael Essien has been injury-ravaged and lacking first-team football for years at Chelsea.
That’s not to say either of these sides has bad players, because that would simply be false.
But the reality is that Portugal has come out of groups much harder than this, and neither the USA or Ghana has the calibre of player that would worry a genuinely elite group of players – and is that not what Bento’s men want to be?
Forever the Portuguese have been underachievers – despite producing players like Figo, Rui Costa, Eusebio and Ronaldo, the men in red and green have never won an international tournament.
This is the time to change that perception, and qualifying from Group G offers Portugal the perfect platform to do so. For a footballing nation like Portugal, relative minnows like the USA and Ghana should be nothing more than a warm up for bigger tests that may be ahead.
They may not be a favourite to contend for the trophy, but the Portuguese should (along with Germany) come out of Group G with ease.
And after that, Ronaldo’s army may very well be a dark horse to take the world by surprise.