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Page last updated at 22:33 GMT, Thursday, 3 June 2010 23:33 UK

Portugal's promise

World Cup guide - Portugal

By Stephen Fottrell
BBC Sport in Covilha, Portugal

The World Cup has an uncanny ability to inspire the best from teams with bundles of talent, ability and flair but who often lack for inspiration, save for on the greatest of stages.

Observing a Portuguese side brimming with all of those qualities necessary for a successful World Cup run at their send-off game on Tuesday was to realise that we may just have found the dark horses of this tournament.

The Seleccao have long travelled to World Cup finals among the favourites, but so inconsistent have they been under current coach Carlos Queiroz that many, not least a good number of their own fans, expect them to bow out quietly in South Africa.

And that perception is precisely what Queiroz would like the rest of arguably the toughest group to hold, with Brazil, Ivory Coast and true unknown quantities North Korea lying in wait.

Portugal's starting line-up against Cameroon featured a well-balanced mix of Champions League star names - not least captain Cristiano Ronaldo - alongside steady workhorses such as Duda and Pedro Mendes.


There is no masking that they depend heavily on Ronaldo's creativity and supreme skills.

But they feature many others in their ranks who can unlock a defence with ease - unlike their African hosts, who looked lost when their talisman, Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o, was dismissed.

Raul Meireles, for one, is the type of box-to-box midfielder every international team craves.

He seemed to be everywhere in Covilha, to the delight of a home crowd who were craving a positive team performance, and saw the Porto linchpin duly inspire its delivery.

Meireles grabbed two deserved goals along the way and was supported by an impressive cast, including Simao, winger Danny, recent addition Fabio Coentrao and Nani, who came on to score an inspired chipped winner.

Ronaldo, though, is the one name on every fan's lips, as well as replica shirts and banners, befitting the status he occupies as the world's most expensive player.

The Portuguese are fearsomely proud of their Madeiran son, and are longing to see him dominate a game in the manner that earned him his giant price-tag in club football.

The Real Madrid whippet has unbelievably not scored for his country in almost two years, and, despite defiantly stating he was saving his goals for the World Cup, did his best to nudge that monkey off his back before departure.

The 25-year-old displayed many of his trademark moves against Cameroon - the ubiquitous surging runs down the wing, the snap shots from the edge of the box, and of course the crowd-pleasing flick and tricks - including a sumptuous back-heeled one-two with Danny.

He also looked more the part of the captain, positioning himself at the heart of most of the team's counter-attacking moves and setting up plenty of opportunities for Liedson and Simao up front.

He does however appear torn at times as to whether play the part of the free-wheeling Ronaldo and barrel on towards goal or provide assists for his fellow attackers - which may explain his international goal drought of late.

Others accuse him of not putting in the same intensity of shift when he puts on the Portuguese shirt, but it's hard to see that argument hold up if he and his fellow squad members hit their full stride in South Africa.

Deco will be playing in his last major international tournament

Among them is Chelsea midfielder Deco - another player who at times has received his own fair share of criticism for not making the most of his supreme talent.

The Brazilian-born playmaker is heading for his last major tournament and appears as relaxed as he ever has, as if impending dotage and the sight of the finish-line has provided him with enough motivation to give it one last go.

Deco, along with fellow Chelsea team-mates Paolo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho, is one of the last remaining members of a so-called golden generation of players who were unable to get beyond the World Cup semi-final hurdle and suffered the huge disappointment of losing a European Championships final on home soil to Greece.

They may just on this occasion possess the components to go one better.

The fact that you may not have noticed yet suits them just fine.

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see also
Eto'o off as Portugal beat Lions
01 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Pepe makes final Portugal squad
01 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Team guide: Portugal
31 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup venues
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010

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