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Portugal

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One man will inevitably dominate Portugal’s assault on the 2014 World Cup – Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo, who aims to enjoy international success for the first time.
 
That target also applies to Portugal as a nation, however, although they went close when beaten finalists at Euro 2004 which they hosted, losing the final 1-0 to Greece.
 
Ronaldo certainly cannot be accused of lacking any passion for representing his country, whom inevitably he captains, and that was never more evident than in the qualification play-off against Sweden last November.
 
Portugal had finished runners-up to Russia in their group and were drawn to face a Sweden side who also boast a superstar not short of self-confidence in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
 
It was billed almost as a personal duel and that’s how it turned out, with Ronaldo scoring the only goal of the home leg before bagging a hat-trick in Scandinavia which went a long way towards securing him the status of the world’s best player for 2013.
 
However, the Portuguese are certainly not a one-man team. They are solid in defence, which includes Ronaldo’s team-mates at Real Madrid, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, while Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso are a strong central midfield axis.
 
The one area where they could potentially struggle is scoring goals if Ronaldo is unable to deliver the goods for any reason, because they lack a top-class out-and-out centre forward.
 
Coach Paulo Bento may have wished for a smoother-looking draw because Portugal get their campaign under way against World Cup Group G odds-on favourites Germany in Salvador on Monday June 16.
 
If they were to lose that game, victory would be urgently required when they face the United States in Manaus on Sunday June 22, with their final match of the pool being a meeting with 2010 quarter-finalists Ghana on Thursday June 26 in Brasilia.
 
Two-time semi-finalists, in 1966 and 2006, on the latter occasion beating England to reach that stage, Portugal won only one of the four matches they played in South Africa in 2010 and failed to score in the other three – a record Ronaldo and co will be keen to put right this time.

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