World Cup: Beyond Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal have plenty of attacking weapons
AMSTERDAM – Much of the talk heading into Sunday's crucial World Cup Group G clash between the US national team and Portugal has centered around ways to contain Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, United States boss Jurgen Klinsmann and his charges should not make the mistake of going overboard with coverage of the Real Madrid dazzler. It would be easy to go blind in the superstar's glare and lose sight of Portugal's other technically-advanced attack weapons.
The US will catch a bit of a break with starting forward Hugo Almeida and offensively gifted left back Fábio Coentrão out nursing injuries picked up in Portugal's 4-0 group-opening loss to Germany. The cupboard is hardly bare, though, with several hungry veterans backed against the wall and eager to keep A Selecção das Quinas in the tournament.
With Almeida on the mend, Portugal manager Paulo Bento may turn to Lazio striker Hélder Postiga. The wily 31-year-old, who hit six times in World Cup qualifying and has 27 career international strikes, is at his best when linking moves, poaching and making varied runs to sniff out the end of crosses. However, he did not look good in warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup.
A more predictable option to start is Éder, a big, agile option coming off a tough season with Braga. He has yet to open his international account, but is a physical chore-and-a-half with tricky feet that can score in many ways. If he doesn't get the start, as projected, A real threat to tired defenses off the bench.
Aside from Ronaldo, longtime Manchester United winger Nani is the most renowned threat on the roster. Though not as lethal, the 27-year-old relies on many of the same slippery dribbles and rocket shots as his former Old Trafford mate. He has 14 goals for his country, but just one in the last two years. On the other hand, Nani missed out on the 2010 World Cup due to an injury suffered celebrating a goal, so he has waited a long time to reach this stage and will not want the experience rudely cut short.
This Portugal squad also features the seasoned flank duo of Silvestre Varela (Porto) and Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), both of whom tend to operate as natural wingers. The former has more experience at this level, but neither appeared in the 4-0 opening loss to Germany. Benfica youngster Rafa Silva offers the change-up, with a dribble-penetration game full of tricks.
Supporting the attack are a trio of midfielders very capable of either making the killer pass or bombing from distance. Monaco playmaker João Moutinho has 17 career assists for Portugal, and 23 in his last two club seasons.
The 27-year-old – another player looking to erase the sting of missing out on World Cup 2010 – is the team's tactical brain and his penchant for tackles makes him a danger to transform turnovers into offense. Though not typically known for scoring goals himself, Moutinho will often shoot low for the purpose of creating rebounds for the front liners.
That little ice-hockey trick is also in the bag of clever midfield workhorses Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso. A longtime Premier League player, Meireles now displays his incisive ground passing and rifle shot for Turkish champs Fenerbahçe. Dinamo Kyiv's Veloso is the defensive midfielder, but also carries with him an arsenal of troublesome lob feeds and scary free kicks.
All three of these Portugal stars had an uncharacteristically rough go of it against Germany, and will be determined to show their worth if given another chance on Sunday. They will have needed to be sharp in the run-up, what with Sporting CP hotshot William Carvalho pushing to break into the line-up. Though he will stay at home more than Veloso, his breakout passing is a real bother.