Portugal Coach Carlos Queiroz made a largely predictable selection for his
Queiroz made a bold move by effectively naming his 23-man squad well in advance of the June 1 deadline. The original 30-man squad submitted to FIFA was slashed to 24, as the Coach did not hesitate to name the men he feels can take the side to glory. The only slight doubt over the final 23 hinges upon the fitness of Real Madrid’s Pepe. His inclusion is somewhat of a gamble, but he has retained the Coach’s faith having been one of the few players to consistently shine for Portugal during a bleak and narrow qualification. Since damaging knee ligaments after landing heavily during an aerial challenge with Valencia’s David Villa in mid-December, the Madrid man has not featured for club or country. Having missed Real Madrid’s title chase, he now faces a race against time to prove his fitness and earn a place in Portugal’s final squad.
In response to criticism of the results recorded early on in his second spell as Coach, Queiroz complained about the high average age of the squad he inherited, and the fact that the younger generation have not been introduced into the senior squad. Whilst this was doubtless a diversionary tactic, elements of his accusation certainly ring true. This is most evident in central midfield as the ageing Costinha and a decidedly out-of-form Maniche meant that Portugal lacked options in the middle of the park. During qualification Pepe stepped into the defensive midfield berth and solved the Coach’s selection headache, and this is perhaps the reason why he has been given every opportunity to prove his fitness. The Madrid man was an inspirational figure in the side and excelled during qualification, with his winning goal against Hungary arguably the turning point of their qualification campaign. In addition to his success in this role, his inclusion would also provide the squad with a genuine utility player, as he can revert to central defence or right-back. Although Queiroz will be keen to see Pepe make it, he has seemingly budgeted for his absence in naming eight defenders in the 24. Should he be included, this would likely spell the end of Ze Castro’s dreams of travelling to South Africa in order to balance the squad.
The manager’s persistence with Pepe emphasises an over-arching criticism that he is rigid in his selection policy and favours big-name players. As testament to this, only nine out of the 24 players are based in Portugal, with established names such as Tiago and Deco maintaining their place despite making only limited appearances for their respective clubs. Whilst the Coach identifies that:“The foundations of the team will not change much,” he quickly moved on to identify that: “Of course the national team doors are wide open.” The first half of this statement appears to be key whilst the second is merely necessary to preserve morale in case injury should strike ahead of the tournament. As further testament to the reliance on the established names, when pressed to name the most important factor heading into the World Cup, Queiroz identified that: “At this moment, I would say it is to pray for the players not to become injured – that’s the most important thing. Because once you have a clear picture about the situation of your team and views regarding the future, it’s important that everyone is in good shape when it’s time to deliver.”
There is certainly the feeling that this sentiment applies to some more than others. Without star player Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal look far less menacing and altogether tentative, as their stuttering qualification campaign in his absence showed all too clearly. With the focused squad selection it appears that Queiroz has a very clear picture of what his final squad and even starting line-up will look like, but his inflexibility and lack of alternative options may ultimately prove his undoing come tournament time.
Provisional 24-man provisional squad
Daniel Fernandes (Iraklis)
Fabio Coentrao (Benfica)
Bruno Alves (Porto)
Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea)
Pepe (Real Madrid)
Ricardo Costa (Lille)