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World Cup 2006 profile

Portugal trying to turn around recent disappointments

Posted: Monday February 20, 2006 12:13PM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 4:10PM
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Striker Pauleta is Portugal's most dangerous threat. He led Euro qualifying with 11 goals.
Striker Pauleta is Portugal's most dangerous threat. He led Euro qualifying with 11 goals.
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By Luis Bueno, SI.com

Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Portugal. Click here for the full archive.

FIFA world ranking: No. 8.

How they qualified for Germany: Finished first in UEFA Group 3 with a 9-3-0 record. In their 12 games, the Portuguese scored an astonishing 35 goals, a figure matched only by the Czech Republic.

Previous World Cups: Three (1966, 1986, 2002); third place in '66.

Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari, fifth year with team. Barely four months after leading Brazil to its fifth World Cup title in '02, Big Phil took over the reigns with Portugal.

Key players

Talented youngsters such as Cristiano Ronaldo might get most of the limelight, but Pauleta is Portugal's most dangerous scorer. Through qualifying, Pauleta finished with 11 goals, tops in Europe. One of just a handful of holdovers from the disappointing '02 side, Pauleta will pose a threat to all of Group D's defenses. The prolific goal scorer is a classy finisher, deadly accurate through the air or with his feet. The Paris St. Germain striker is no stranger to World Cup success -- he had a hat trick in an '02 victory over Poland, Portugal's lone win in the tournament.

Following a devastating loss to Greece in the Euro '04 final, longtime national team standout Luis Figo decided to take an indefinite break from international competition. When he was finally recalled about 10 months later, Figo came back refreshed and proved to be as influential a presence as he ever was. Portugal's skipper and its most-capped player, Figo has resurrected his club career as well, having found success at Inter Milan after falling out of favor with Real Madrid.

What to watch for

There is no questioning Portugal's talent. Based on their pedigree, the Selecção should be one of the favorites to win the World Cup. Talent alone, however, does not win important tournaments, and Portugal's failed World Cup '02 and Euro '04 bids attest to that. It entered Japan/Korea as a tournament dark horse, but exited the tournament unceremoniously after dropping its final match against Korea.

Two years later, Portugal dropped the European Championship final at home to a surprising Greek side. Scolari has proven success at the World Cup -- if Big Phil can carry over some of the magic he had with Brazil in the Far East, Portugal might make some noise in Germany.

Group: D (Mexico, Iran, Angola).

Key match in the group stage: June 17 vs. Iran. Assuming the Selecção beat Angola (which is not exactly a leap of faith), a win over Iran would give them six points and possibly secure the team a spot in the knockout rounds. Iran can be a tricky side and the Portuguese will need a maximum effort not to have another letdown. If they can wrap up a spot following their second group game, the group finale against Mexico will be strictly a tune-up for the big show; a loss or draw against Iran could mean a do-or-die effort against the Mexicans, and Portugal's recent history in such matches isn't very convincing.

Oddsmakers' line: 20-1.

Projected Starting Lineup
Pos. Player Club team
G Ricardo Sporting Lisbon (Portugal)
D Nuno Valente Everton (England)
D Fernando Meira VfB Stuttgart (Germany)
D Ricardo Carvalho Chelsea (England)
D Paulo Ferreira Chelsea (England)
M Maniche Chelsea (England)
M Petit Benfica (Portugal)
M Deco FC Barcelona (Spain)
M Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United (England)
M Luis Figo Inter Milan (Italy)
F Pauleta Paris St. Germain (France)

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