What Went Right? Surprisingly stout defense, not giving up a single goal during the group phase and only one their entire stay. Defensive organization, communication, discipline, reading of the game and anticipation was spot on. Even against the two best offenses on the planet, Brazil and Spain, Portugal never lost their defensive shape and never allowed themselves to get stretched thin. They were very physical at the point of attack and weren’t afraid to take people on. Rear flanks were just suffocating, giving their opponents no place to go. Defenders individually were good on their own; they didn’t need to defend in numbers or pack the back or center. As usual, goalkeeping was one the tops in the competition. Portugal got significant contributions from their bench. Most of all, they got to play North Korea. That more than anything is why they finished second in their group —
What Went Wrong? — Because against everybody else their attack was one of the worst in South Africa. Do not be impressed by the seven goals they scored against the DPRK because THAT’S ALL THE GOALS THEY SCORED! Picking apart football excrement like the DPRK means nothing in the larger picture of their performance in this tournament. If it wasn’t for their defense Portugal wouldn’t have made it past the first week. No matter what approach they used or they were preternaturally awful. Couldn’t get anything going in the center or down the flanks. Conceded possession because they coughed up the ball way too much and allowed themselves to be dispossessed. Showed absolutely no direct or creative attacking quality. They moved around a lot on the attacking end and got the ball forward on long balls but not to any real concerted purpose. Played with absolutely none of the bite, heart, or refuse-to-lose mentality that characterized their last World Cup appearance. Worst of all, the front three players just plain stunk.
Who Stepped Up To The Plate? This is the second consecutive World Cup that goalkeeper Eduardo has come to play. The backline from left to right of Bruno Alves, Ricardo Carvalho, Ricardo Costa and Fabio Coentrao was just stellar and needs to be recognized as one of the best in the tournament. Tiago and Pepe were a revelation in front of the backline. The defense got significant help when Paulo Ferreira, Miguel, and Duda came on as replacements.
Who Didn’t Show Up? Leidson, Hugo Almeida, Danny – it didn’t really matter; none of their strikers were any good. Simao? Just don’t get me started. Cristiano Ronaldo has never played like the superstar he is for his club sides. Until this tournament he at least was useful and played well if not stellar. In South Africa he really wasn’t even that. It’s about time the national side or anybody else stop expecting Ronaldo to raise his game. If it hasn’t happened by now then it isn’t going to.
How Was The Coaching? Carlos Queiroz is a wonderful and skilled ASSISTANT! Unfortunately he has proven he has none of the ability to lead a team.
Did They Finish Where They Were Expected? They actually finished better, but we’ve already outlined why. Stellar defense aside, getting to the knockout round had virtually nothing to do with them.
Now What? They can start by getting a new coach, somebody with some tactical know-how who will also bring an attractive attacking quality to a side bursting with midfield talent. Clearly there is quality football talent on the ground in Portugal, so harvesting new players is certainly not going to be a problem. That defense is a great foundation to build on. But for God sakes find a reliable finisher or two up front, something they haven’t had since Euro 2000.