Turbulent, tense and eventually triumphant; that would be an appropriate way to describe Portugal’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2012. It was truly a roller-coaster ride which had it all: a change of coach, dressing-room disarray and a dramatic finale featuring a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
To truly understand what happened, you have to go back to the end of the 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa. Following a 1-0 defeat by Spain in the last 16, everyone turned on the man in charge, Carlos Queiroz. It wasn’t so much the result which frustrated fans and the media, it was the manner in which they lost. Portugal had managed to score in only one of their four matches and criticism of Queiroz’s tactics had reached fever pitch. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, his long-time friend and ally, snapped when asked why they had been knocked out. He simply said: “Ask Queiroz.”
Needless to say, the atmosphere in the camp when the Euro qualifiers kicked off at home to Cyprus was far from ideal, and when they drew 4-4 the knives were out. It seemed the players, the press and even the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) were against Queiroz. The FPF accused him of denying national doping officials access to players during a visit to the training camp before the World Cup. Queiroz denied it and was eventually cleared, several months later, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but he was now an isolated man, and defeat by Norway in the next qualifier spelt the end of his 26-month tenure.
While the bickering between the FPF and Queiroz continued, a new coach was appointed. Paulo Bento is a former international who had enjoyed a relatively successful coaching spell at Sporting Lisbon. His combative and passionate personality was just what the doctor ordered and he made an immediate impact. He won his first game in charge, against Denmark, and led the team to four more consecutive wins in Group H to boost their qualifying hopes.
A convincing 4-0 win over Spain in a friendly in Lisbon showed what this team could do with an attacking mentality and the top players firing on all cylinders. Ronaldo, criticised for indifferent performances under Queiroz, was spectacular and set the tone for the rest of the qualifiers. He scored crucial goals against Cyprus and Iceland and looked more like the player who was terrorising La Liga defences for Real Madrid.
All was not well behind the scenes, however. Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho were excluded after clashes with Bento – Bosingwa after being accused of exaggerating an injury in order to miss a friendly; Carvalho for storming out of a training camp in September 2011 after hearing he had been dropped for the qualifier in Cyprus. He apologised, but was not forgiven and his Portugal career came to an untimely end.
The turbulence during a long qualifying campaign helps explain why Portugal didn’t qualify directly for Euro 2012. They needed a draw in their final match against Denmark in Copenhagen but lost and were forced into a play-off in which the Selecao das Quinas’ true colours finally showed when it mattered most. They hammered Bosnia-Herzegovina 6-2 in the second leg in Lisbon and the Euro 2004 runners-up finally sealed their place in the finals for a fifth successive time.
Expectations in Portugal are still high heading into the finals. Despite being drawn in the “group of death” alongside Germany, Holland and Denmark, everyone still believes that, with Nani and Ronaldo, anything is possible.
With Braga and Sporting Lisbon finishing strongly, will Hugo Viana or Andre Martins get a surprise call-up? Viana could offer much-needed creativity, while Martins, a rough diamond, would benefit from a Euro experience. There is a question mark over goalkeeper Eduardo, once rated as one of Europe’s best. After a poor spell in Italy his standing has dropped and he has had to play back-up at Benfica.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
09.06.12 Germany (Lviv, Ukr)
13.06.12 Denmark (Lviv, Ukr)
07.06.12 Holland (Kharkiv, Ukr)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
22 Beto (30) 01.05.82 CFR Cluj (Rom)
1 Eduardo (29) 19.09.82 Genoa (Ita)
12 Rui Patricio (24) 15.02.88 Sporting Lisbon
2 Bruno Alves (30) 27.11.81 Zenit (Rus)
5 Fabio Coentrao (24) 11.03.88 Real Madrid (Spa)
13 Ricardo Costa (31) 16.05.81 Valencia (Spa)
19 Miguel Lopes (25) 19.12.86 Porto
3 Pepe (29) 26.02.83 Real Madrid (Spa)
21 Joao Pereira (28) 25.02.84 Valencia (Spa)
14 Rolando (26) 31.08.85 Porto
6 Custodio (29) 24.05.83 Braga
16 Raul Meireles (29) 17.03.83 Chelsea (Eng)
15 Ruben Micael (25) 19.08.86 Atletico Madrid (Spa)
8 Joao Moutinho (25) 08.09.86 Porto
20 Hugo Viana (29) 15.01.83 Braga
4 Miguel Veloso (26) 11.05.86 Genoa (Ita)
9 Hugo Almeida (28) 23.05.84 Besiktas (Tur)
17 Nani (25) 17.11.86 Manchester United (Eng)
11 Nelson Oliveira (20) 08.08.91 Benfica
23 Helder Postiga (29) 02.08.82 Real Zaragoza (Spa)
10 Ricardo Quaresma (28) 26.09.83 Besiktas (Tur)
7 Cristiano Ronaldo (27) 05.02.85 Real Madrid (Spa)
18 Silvestre Varela (27) 02.02.85 Porto
Paulo Bento (42) 20.06.69
… Paulo Bento will remain in charge of the national team beyond Euro 2012 after agreeing a new deal until July 2014 … Hugo Viana replaced Carlos Martins, who was originally in the final 23, after he was ruled out with a calf injury …
EURO 2012 QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
03.09.10 Cyprus (h) 4-4
07.09.10 Norway (a) 0-1
08.10.10 Denmark (h) 3-1
12.10.10 Iceland (a) 3-1
04.06.11 Norway (h) 1-0
02.09.11 Cyprus (a) 4-0
07.10.11 Iceland (h) 5-3
11.10.11 Denmark (a) 1-2
P W D L F A Pts
Denmark 8 6 1 1 15 6 19
Portugal 8 5 1 2 21 12 16
Norway 8 5 1 2 10 7 16
Iceland 8 1 1 6 6 14 4
Cyprus 8 0 2 6 7 20 2
11.11.11 Bosnia-Herzegovina (a) 0-0
15.11.11 Bosnia-Herzegovina (h) 6-2
By Pedro Pinto