How they qualified
For the second time in succession Portugal had to go through the play-offs in order to advance to the world finals. Reprising their aggregate defeat of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road to South Africa 2010, the Portuguese saw off Sweden 4-2 over two legs to book their place at Brazil 2014. Their hero of the hour was none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored all four of their goals against the Swedes to round off a qualifying tournament full of ups and downs for Paulo Bento’s side.
They began their bid to reach their sixth FIFA World Cup as the favourites to win Group F, having made the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2012, where they lost on penalties to Spain. And though they held their own against Russia, losing in Moscow but winning the return fixture in Lisbon, the Portuguese had to settle for second place in the section after surprise draws at home to Northern Ireland and home and away to Israel. That left them with no option but to take the play-off route again, but in a duel that pitted together two of the world’s best players, Ronaldo got the better of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the scorer of his side’s two goals, to guide the Portuguese safely to Brazil.
FIFA World Cup finals history
It was not until England 1966 that the Portuguese made their world finals debut, yet as entrances go it could hardly have been more impressive. Spearheaded by the irrepressible Eusebio, Portugal’s golden generation knocked out Brazil en route to the semi-finals, where they came up just short against the host nation. Consolation came in the shape of victory over the Soviet Union in the match for third place. The Portuguese do not have happy memories of their next appearance on the big stage, however, which came at Mexico 1986. Despite opening up with a win over England, they went out in the group phase after defeats to Poland and Morocco.
Absent from Italy 1990, USA 1994 and France 1998, the Portuguese contested their third World Cup at Korea/Japan 2002, where they once again fell at the first hurdle. A very different story would follow at Germany 2006. Coached on that occasion by Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who had taken Brazil to the world title four years earlier, Portugal made it all the way to last four before being knocked out by a Zinedine Zidane penalty, with Scolari’s side then going on to lose the match for third place against hosts Germany. In South Africa four years later Portugal’s dream ended in the Round of 16, when they were edged out 1-0 be eventual champions Spain.
The key players
As he showed in the play-off against Sweden, Cristiano Ronaldo is still very much Portugal’s go-to man, though the peerless Real Madrid star is supported is by a very able cast. The central-defensive pairing of Pepe and Bruno Alves is the cornerstone of a very solid rearguard that also features flying full-backs Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao. Joao Moutinho is the heartbeat of a creative midfield unit, while Nani can also be relied upon to shine alongside Ronaldo.
Current coach: Paulo Bento
Best performances in a FIFA competition: 1966 FIFA World Cup England (third place), FIFA U-20 World Cup Saudi Arabia 1989 and Portugal 1991 (winners), FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 (runners-up), FIFA U-17 World Cup Scotland 1989 (third place).
Former stars: Eusebio, Coluna, Simoes, Jose Augusto, Torres, Jaime Graca, Rui Costa and Luis Figo.