Thursday, 17 September 2009

Portugal in danger of missing out on the big stage

Over the last decade, the Portuguese have become virtual ever-presents at major finals and have impressed on the big stage on more than one occasion, finishing runners-up at UEFA EURO 2004, fourth at Germany 2006 and reaching the last eight at Austria and Switzerland 2008.

Given that impressive run, Portugal were widely tipped to qualify for South Africa 2010 at a canter. But despite boasting the reigning FIFA World Player Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Queiroz's undoubtedly talented outfit are in serious danger of missing out on the finals for the first time since France 1998.

Their most obvious shortcomings have been up front, where star performer Ronaldo has failed to repeat the club form that has taken him to the pinnacle of the world game. Ronaldo's finishing woes are not the only cause of Portugal's troubles in front of goal. "Our finishing has been very poor," lamented midfielder Duda after the recent qualifiers against Denmark and Hungary. "We've been missing a lot of chances."

Yet despite the riches at their disposal, the Portuguese have struggled to gel as a unit during their faltering Group 1 campaign. Inhibited by a lack of fluency in possession and a tendency to lose shape, their failings in front of goal are the most obvious symptom of their shaky recent form.

With only high-pressure home games against Hungary and Malta to come, the Portuguese team needs maximum points and a Swedish slip-up just to make the play-offs. It is a state of affairs few would have predicted when the Lusitanians embarked on what was meant to be a straightforward journey to South Africa.

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