World Cup 2014: Portugal national soccer team guide
CAN RONALDO OUTDO MESSI IN BRAZIL?
If Portugal are going to ever make a run at the World Cup, the 2014 tournament is perhaps their best chance to finally join an exclusive list of eight countries which have claimed the world title. With the best player the country has ever produced -- Cristiano Ronaldo -- at the very top of his game, the stars may finally align. And Ronaldo will be plenty motivated -- a World Cup title would lift him above Argentina's Lionel Messi in the eternal debate about the No. 1 player in the world.
WHO GOT THEM THERE
WATCH: The Ronaldo Story
Cristiano Ronaldo (F, Real Madrid): Portugal's superstar, captain and goalscorer. He single-handedly punched his country's ticket to the World Cup, scoring all four of his team's goals in an aggregate-goal playoff win over Sweden.
Fábio Coentrão (D, Real Madrid): A steady defender and key cog on a backline that is often overshadowed by the attacking prowess of Ronaldo.
Nani (F, Manchester United): Although he can't find consistent playing time in England, he's a weapon for his national team. With the opposition keying on Ronaldo, the expert dribbler will have space to do damage.
Paulo Bento, hired on Sept. 20, 2010, took over a team with plenty of potential that was still struggling to find its way. Under his tutelage, Portugal have registered some promising results: an impressive 4-0 win over Spain and a semifinal appearance in Euro 2012.
Bento, a former defensive midfielder who collected 35 caps with the Portuguese national team from 1999-2002, has coached one other team – Sporting Club de Portugal, where he finished his playing career – prior to making the jump to the national team.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 6-3-1, 21 pts. / 20 GF, 9 GA (second place in Europe's Group F)
WATCH: Epic Sweden-Portugal 2nd leg
After finishing in second place in their group -- Russia grabbed the top spot -- Portugal faced a home-and-home aggregate goal series against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden. The two-leg series resulted in one of the most memorable showdowns of all-time. Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo scored all the goals in the series, with Portugal pulling it out 4-2 on aggregate.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Portugal weren't much of a World Cup contender in the 1900s, making it to just two tournaments – finishing third in 1966 and 17th in 1986. However, since the turn of the century and with the emergence of talents like Luís Figo and Ronaldo, the Portuguese have been a mainstay, qualifying for three straight tournaments, including a fourth-place finish in 2006.
WATCH: USA shock Portugal
New England Revolution and 2013 MLS Defender of the Year José Gonçalves is the only active Portuguese-born player in MLS. While he isn't on the Portuguese national team, Gonçalves was one of the best players in MLS, earning Best XI honors.
Portugal and the US have had a fairly evenly-matched history, with Portugal winning twice in four matches. But the US have the most prominent win in the 2002 World Cup when heavily-favored Portugal fell to the USA 3-2. The win helped the US begin their march to the quarterfinals, while it doomed Portugal, who failed to get out of the group.