PORTUGAL ALMOST QUALIFIED for a World Cup seed. In fact, if FIFA had used the November 2013 rankings to determine seeds, Portugal, fifth at the time, would have landed in Pot A and likely would have faced an easier path to the knockout rounds.

But the squad was just 14th in October after a string of disappointing results and, as a result, A Selecção finds itself among the quartet with the highest average worldwide ranking—the Group of Death.

Portugal, drawn into what seemed an easy European qualification group, struggled and ultimately finished second to Russia. The team lost in Moscow, tied Northern Ireland at home in Porto, and drew both legs with Israel—not exactly a dominant showing. In the playoff against Sweden, Cristiano Ronaldo (four goals) outdid counterpart Zlatan Ibrahimovic (two) and A Selecção was through. Still, the road to Brazil was more difficult than it should have been.


But all is not lost: Portugal has one of the best players in the world in Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, and he has plenty of talent around him, including club teammates Pepe and Fábio Coentrão, Manchester United's Nani, and Monaco's João Moutinho.

Brazil might represent the last, best chance for this generation to make its mark in world soccer. It hasn't been a bad run—the team finished fourth at the most recent European championship—but it hasn't won any medals, either. While that's unlikely to happen in 2014, Portugal could get hot, Ronaldo could destroy a few nets (and more than a few bottles of hair product), and the squad could make a deep run. (So you're telling me there's a chance...)

More than likely, however, Portugal will battle with the United States (6pm, June 22; ESPN) and Ghana for second place in Group G, especially if it loses to Germany in the first match.


The United States likely needs a point against Portugal if it hopes to advance, and that's an achievable goal, although certainly not an easy task. A Selecção will dominate possession, but this isn't the Portugal team of a few years ago. Contain Cristiano and good things can happen.—NOAH DAVIS







They Said It ...


The Coach

PAULO BENTO, a 44-year-old Lisbon native, took over the team after a poor start to the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign doomed predecessor Carlos Queiroz.

The former defensive midfielder, who earned 35 caps for his native country between 1992 and 2002, led Portugal to a semifinal appearance in the tournament and through its successful, albeit rocky, World Cup qualifying campaign. (Bento also came on in the 69th minute of Portugal's 3-2 loss to the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup.)

Before taking the top job with his country, Bento helmed Sporting Clube de Portugal for four years, where he won a number of trophies and earned the nickname "Papa-Taças" ("Cup Eater"). As a player, Bento was known as a fiery competitor who occasionally lost his head. UEFA suspended him for five months for bad behavior after a semifinal defeat to Spain at the 2000 Euro.


The Tactics

PORTUGAL PREFERS PLAYING a 4-3-3, but the team's attack is pretty simple: Get the ball to Ronaldo and let him work his magic. He's one of the fastest players in the world, and the United States' central defenders–never known for their speed–will need to be wary. Ronaldo is also far too physically strong for a slight fullback like DaMarcus Beasley to handle. Six-foot-tall Fabian Johnson, or perhaps even the sturdy Eric Lichaj might provide better options against the Well-Coiffed One.

For a detailed look at the most prominent Portuguese players—including stats, videos, news links, and more—click on the player images on the left side of this page.


The History

BRAZIL IS THE FOURTH consecutive World Cup Portugal has reached, and the country has found mixed success. It failed to get out of its group in 2002, but four years later it won three group games, a round of 16 match against the Netherlands, and a penalty shootout with England before falling to France in the semifinals and Germany in the third-place match.

In South Africa, a David Villa goal sent Portugal home from the 2010 World Cup after the Round of 16. The country's best-ever finish came in 1966 when the team finished third after losing to England in the semifinals.


They Said It...

"It is what it is. It's a tough group, with four good teams that have reasons to believe they all can make it to the next round. Most people probably think Germany are the best team. It's obvious they could win the whole thing. Our first aim is to get to the knockout stage, and then we'll take it from there.... I can't forget that we lost our first match of the 2002 World Cup against the USA. It was a shock to us, that 3-2." —Paulo Bento

"It's good we are playing Germany first because we have put in good performances against the stronger teams. It's important to start well so we're not chasing after lost points."—former Portugal striker Luis Figo

"I was sleeping during the World Cup draw." Ronaldo

"Playing Germany first has advantages and disadvantages. If we win, our morale will be high. Ghana are one of the best African teams, and USA have improved a lot."—Hugo Almeida

"Portugal had a little bit of trouble coming out of qualifying in Europe but that doesn’t say much because there are so many good teams in Europe. For me, like I said, Ronaldo is the best player in the world right now. He has shown, even when you look at the two games with Sweden, that he has the ability to, in a way unlike any other player in the world, put his team on his shoulders and will them and carry them. We have, for sure, a lot of respect for their team and we know it will be really difficult." —Michael Bradley