After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.
The squad is in good shape. Preparations are running reasonably smoothly, though some sections of the local press are trying to create column inches over Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness. He should be fine, however. There is a very well planned pre-tournament period in the U.S., where final touches will be put to the squad's tactics, but so far so good. Coach Paulo Bento has as of yet resisted the temptation to play two of Real Madrid's three Champions League winners (Ronaldo and Pepe), so they should be fresh and raring to go when they are called into action.
Portugal itself is in typically low-key mode. With 10 million arch-pessimists getting ready to follow the fortunes of the team, you can never expect trumpet fanfares -- or any screaming and shouting. No bunting so far, and not much decoration in the streets or in the cafes, but the atmosphere will be more feverish in a week's time.
All 32 team previews and predictions
Brazil | Cameroon | Croatia | Mexico
Australia | Netherlands | Chile | Spain
Colombia | Greece | Ivory Coast | Japan
Costa Rica | England | Italy | Uruguay
Ecuador | France | Honduras | Switzerland
Argentina | Bosnia | Iran | Nigeria
Germany | Ghana | Portugal | USA
Algeria | Belgium | Russia | South Korea
There seems to be a lack of a Plan B if there are injuries to any of the big players. The Greece friendly proved that Portugal need the Real Madrid trio of Ronaldo, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao to be fit, otherwise there could be trouble. Bento's rigid 4-3-3 only works properly with his trusted men in position. Putting Miguel Veloso alongside William Carvalho in centre midfield did not seem to work, as João Moutinho's creativity and eye for a pass were sorely missed. It can be said, therefore, that the biggest problem does not involve what must change but rather what must stay the same. That is the usual suspects staying fit and playing their parts in Bento's trusted formula. One fears for the outcome if this is not the case.
Ronaldo is the obvious and slightly boring choice -- and not just because he is the one big star Portugal will bring to the World Cup. The boys up front (Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida, Eder) cannot be relied upon to score regularly, so the onus falls upon Ronaldo. Almeida is cumbersome and scores infrequently, while Postiga -- despite a scoring record at international level that belies the widespread criticism he receives from all quarters -- seems lightweight in some respects.
Eder, untried as yet to score at international level, might provide a spark if he is given the opportunity, but he is likely to start as third choice for the central attacking position. Ronaldo comes to the tournament on the back of his best ever season, with goals galore and awards aplenty littering his way. He proved in the playoff games with Sweden that he is capable of carrying this side like few others operating in world football today.
There are two candidates: First, and most obviously, Carvalho, who might come into midfield instead of Raul Meireles. If he does, the world will sit up and take notice of a big future star. Assured in the pass, the big, strong youngster from Sporting Lisbon has had an excellent season and is ahead of schedule as far as personal progress is concerned. There is widespread belief that he would not let anyone down if he were to be chosen in that central midfield berth. Either Meireles or, less probably, Veloso would have to give way for him, though, and you get the feeling Bento would only do that after a poor start to the tournament. If the risk-averse manager does go for it, he will discover it is a small risk worth taking.
Eder might surprise a few as well, if he gets his chance up front instead of the aforementioned Almeida or Postiga. He is pacy and skillful and offers a different kind of target for the midfield trio behind him. He can hold the ball up well and has a striking turn of speed from those great long shanks. The question is: Does he have goals in them too?
PREDICTION: Semifinals hope
As stated, nobody expects too many trees to be uprooted, as this side is low on star quality and low on quality replacements for if and when injuries and tiredness take over. However, Bento can take advantage of a tightly knit squad and a group of players who know each others' games exceptionally well. This is the flip side of having a manager who keeps experimentation down to a bare minimum.
A tough second-round game is in prospect versus the Belgians, but a win and passage to the quarterfinals (and perhaps beyond) is entirely realistic, though that potential second-round encounter stands to be a close affair, as Belgium are a lot of peoples' dark horses. They are untested at this level, however -- a criticism nobody can level at Portugal.
With a little momentum and, therefore, growing confidence among the players, this side can go far. Portugal's modern day tournament form is excellent, and Bento's first choice side is settled and comfortable with one another. Nobody will expect them to get as far as the last four, however, and if they achieve that, they will have surpassed every expectation.