Mercurial Portugal facing uphill task at World Cup 2022

Not for the first time, Portugal’s fate at the 2022 World Cup is closely tied to Ronaldo.

Portugal hasn’t made it to the quarter-finals since 2006 [Pedro Nunes/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 7
Titles: 0
Best finish: Semi-finals (1966, 2006)
World Cup Record: W14 D6 L10
Goals scored: 49
Biggest win: 7-0 (North Korea 2010)
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo
Current ranking: 9th
Fixtures: Ghana (November 24), Uruguay (November 28), South Korea (December 2)

The Portugal football team is synonymous with one Cristiano Ronaldo.

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So unsurprisingly, the narrative around the country’s upcoming World Cup campaign is shaped by the fact that it is his final bow on this stage, his last chance to win Portugal its first World Cup.

There are a few teams in the football world as mercurial as Portugal.

In the past decade, they’ve reached the Euro semi-finals (2012), won their first major trophy (Euro 2016) and also lifted the inaugural Nations League title in 2019. It’s arguably the greatest era in Portuguese football and yet, they’ve been abysmal in the intervening World Cups.

Portugal hasn’t made it to the quarter-finals since 2006.

In 2014, they were knocked out in the group stages. Four years later, they were eliminated in the round of 16.

In the past three World Cups, they’ve won just three matches. Ronaldo is yet to score in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Ronaldo has never scored in a World Cup knockout match [Darko Bandic/Reuters]

Who do they have in their group?

The Seleção das Quinas is the highest-ranked team in their group of South Korea, Uruguay and Ghana and are expected to top it.

The standout fixture will be their match against Uruguay, the team that knocked them out of Russia 2018.

One of the country’s three wins in the past three World Cups came against Ghana, who were in Portugal’s group at Brazil 2014.

Qualification and form

A loss to Serbia in their last qualifier consigned Portugal to the playoffs, where they held their nerve against Turkey and then North Macedonia to seal their spot at the World Cup.

They have become specialists in these high-stakes encounters – this is the third consecutive World Cup they have qualified for through the playoffs.

“The best is yet to come, I can’t be more specific than that. The best is yet to come and it will come this year,” said manager Federico Santos after their win over the Czech Republic in September.

Bruno Fernandes scored a brace in Portugal’s World Cup playoff against North Macedonia [Miguel Vidal/Reuters]

The Ronaldo factor

At 37, Ronaldo is not the force he once was.

Despite scoring 24 goals for Manchester United last season, Portugal’s record scorer has found himself on the fringes of the squad this year.

While Santos remains unperturbed by Ronaldo’s recent woes and has assured him of a place in his starting lineup, his inclusion is a massive point of contention among Portuguese fans.

Ronaldo has scored five goals in his last 10 appearances for Portugal. All five goals came in two games.

As is the case at United, the debate over Ronaldo is that in accommodating him in the XI, the team loses its balance. Moreover, with players like Bernado Silva, João Félix, Rafael Leão and Bruno Fernandes, Portugal has no shortage of attacking options.

Not for the first time, Portugal’s fate at the World Cup is closely tied to Ronaldo. Except, this time it’s not in the way we’d imagine.

Source: Al Jazeera