Of course Portugal aren’t a one man team – they’ve got far too many top players at top clubs for that – but it’s difficult to look at them without focusing on an individual.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career hasn’t yet got anywhere near the heights of his club one with Manchester United and Real Madrid, and those that have spotted a Portuguese tournament trend and put it together with their tough group draw this time around might be aware that it looks as though it isn’t going to get better anytime soon for Portugal’s golden boy.
Since breaking into the team for the host nation at Euro 2004, Ronaldo has suffered defeat in the final of that competition to shock winners Greece, the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2006 to the French, the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 to Germany and the second round of the 2010 World Cup to eventual winners Spain. All that is left is on an increasingly depressing record is a group stage elimination, and that looks like coming here.
Dumped in the group of death alongside Germany, Holland and Denmark, the Portuguese (eliminated at group stage 8/13 Bet365) have probably been the unluckiest team in Euro 2012 even before the tournament kicks off.
Had they been placed in the weak-looking Group A with Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic and Russia instead of finding themselves in Group B then the Portuguese would be a shoo-in to reach the quarter-finals, whilst qualification would also be possible from either of the other two groups too, where it would be possible to see them finishing as runners-up.
This one is a different matter though.
Despite the presence of world star Ronaldo and his backup crew – top players such as Manchester United’s Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Hugo Almeida of Besiktas, Chelsea’s Mohican-sporting midfielder Raul Meireles and the Sporting Lisbon schemer Joao Moutinho – the Germans and the Dutch just look to be too strong and too organised for Portugal, something that Paulo Bento’s side will find out in their first match when they face Germany in Lviv on the tournament’s second day (Germany win 5/6 SkyBet).
As if the probability of them being eliminated early wasn’t enough, the prospect of the Portuguese finishing their campaign pointless can also be raised when you consider that their supposed ‘easiest’ opponents in the group finished three points above them in qualifying for the tournament.
Denmark and Portugal meet in Lviv on June 13th, and although the firms believe that it should be the Portuguese who win (10/11 Paddy Power), the Danes (7/2 Stan James) can’t be discounted, and those who fancy the Scandinavians to cause somewhat of a shock whilst still backing Germany and Holland to progress should be directed to the Portugal total group points markets (exactly 0 10/1, exactly 1 11/2 Ladbrokes).
Obviously there remains the possibility that Ronaldo, such is his talent, could blow everybody else out of the water (top goalscorer 14/1 Stan James) and inspire Portugal to cause a surprise, but the toughness of the group makes such a feat beyond even him, and the Portuguese seem certain to be booking one of the earlier flights home.
They never really sparkled in qualifying, where they finished level on points with Norway, only just nicking a play-off place. Once there, they eventually comprehensively overcame Bosnia, but what is waiting for them in Poland and the Ukraine will be far tougher than that challenge was.
Bento will be hoping that Ronaldo can reverse the trend that he finds his side on, and whilst one day he surely will, that day doesn’t look like coming here.