Por­tu­gal un­der the radar

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

They’re the reign­ing cham­pi­ons of Eu­rope with ar­guably the best player in the world.

And yet there seems to be lit­tle talk about Por­tu­gal and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo head­ing into Friday’s much an­tic­i­pated World Cup match against neigh­bour­ing Spain in Group B.

In a way it’s un­der­stood. Spain dom­i­nated the head­lines this week with the chaos sur­round­ing its coach­ing sit­u­a­tion, to the point a large num­ber of ques­tions on Thursday at Por­tu­gal’s news con­fer­ence were based around their op­po­nent’s de­ci­sion to re­place coach Julen Lopetegui with Fernando Hierro just days be­fore the game. Sec­ondary was the fact this is the first match be­tween the Ibe­rian neighbours since 2012.

“We’re fo­cused, we’re united and I don’t think we’re con­cerned with any­thing else,” Por­tu­gal mid­fielder Joao Moutinho said. “We have to fo­cus on the ac­tion of the team and what we can do to at­tain our goal in this World Cup. We’re not re­ally look­ing at what is hap­pen­ing with other teams.”

Per­haps a bit more re­spect should be paid to Por­tu­gal based on its last ma­jor tour­na­ment. The team won the 2016 Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship thanks to a mag­i­cal run through the knock­out stage led by Ron­aldo.

Spain, Ger­many, Brazil and France are all talked about as po­ten­tial win­ners of this tour­na­ment. Rarely is Por­tu­gal men­tioned, yet the play­ers seem to un­der­stand their place in the hi­er­ar­chy of con­tenders.

“The favourites are the ones you have just listed,” Moutinho said. “Por­tu­gal is, I think, among the can­di­dates to be able to take this cup home. It’s nor­mal to have other favourites with all they’ve ob­tained, all they’ve achieved. Of course you have favourites. We are Eu­ro­pean cham­pi­ons, but that doesn’t give us the right to be favourites.”

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