Many of Europe’s biggest nations have often dominated at the biggest tournament in sport yet Portugal have always faltered here. The Portuguese national side have never managed to make the final of the World Cup in any of their 7 previous appearances. However, with the guidance of some legendary names, they have reached the last four twice finishing a best of third in 1966. Despite their eventual shortcomings, Portugal’s teams have often comprised of some of the best stars of their era. So who would make the greatest Portuguese World Cup XI?
An often forgotten star of his time, Ricardo was always someone who stepped up for the biggest occasions. His agility and command of the area made him exceptionally nimble in between the posts and stop shots from many of the world’s best strikers. Starring in both the 2002 and 2006 tournaments, Ricardo was often his country’s first choice keeper. This was notable in the 2006 tournament where he kept three clean sheets as Portugal finished fourth. Ricard would earn a nomination for the 2006 All-Star XI for his efforts and claim his place in tournament history.
Miguel’s playing style was surprisingly to many. Despite his stocky and powerful build, Miguel was exceptionally quick and could also whip in deadly crosses without much efforts. This array of skills saw him included in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup squads. He often gave consistently strong performances and gave his all no matter if he was playing giants like France or minnows like South Korea. It’s why he notched up 7 appearances at the World Cup and earned plaudits from many of the best players in the game.
LB: Fernando Meira
Despite playing either as a left-back or centre back, Fernando Meira was capable of many different styles. His firm tackling style made him a key asset at the back but he also had the skills to beat players and move the game forward if given the opportunity. It was these qualities that saw him feature in the squads for both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. His best showing was in 2006 where he played every game in the tournament as Portgual finished fourth – their highest finish in 40 years.
Has there been a player as fearless as Pepe? The central defender has been a modern-day powerhouse using his physicality and strength to stop the best in the world from creating chances. This, along with his aerial domination, has made him a part of 3 World Cup squads appearing for Portugal in the 2010,2014 and 2018 tournaments. This is why he has appeared 8 times at the World Cup and has earned praise for his performances at each showpiece occasion. One of the best defenders of his era.
CB: Ricardo Carvalho
A fearless leader, Ricardo Carvalho always gave over 100% when he stepped out onto the pitch. His tacking and heading would neutralise any threats with ease and he could also play smart passes that helped control the tempo of the game. He played a starring role for Portugal reaching the last four of the 2006 tournament as his nation kept 3 clean sheets in 7 games. This saw Carvalho nominated as part of the All Star squad for the 2006 tournament and emerge as one of the best of his generation. With 10 appearances overall, Carvalho is joint-third in all-time appearances for his country at the World Cup.
For the best part of nearly two decades, Simao was an ever-present part of the Portugal set-up. Known for his driving runs and excellent passes, Simao could unlock a defence with the flick of a boot. Never one flustered by pressure, Simao could always control the game as he pressed forward in attack. Simao would feature in both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments playing 11 times and scoring 2 goals. This makes Simao Sabrosa the second in all-time appearances for Portugal having played in 11 games altogether.
A reliable box-to-box midfielder, Tiago Mendes was a player who often passed unnoticed in games. However, that was where he was at his most devastating. Tiago could easily launch cross-field passes that could create a goal in just a matter of seconds. It was why he was a key member of the Portugal squads in the 2006 and 2010 tournaments that reached the knockout stages. His shining moment came in the 2010 tournament where he scored twice in a 7-0 win over North Korea and caught the eyes of many fans and onlookers.
CM: Luis Figo
There’s no denying that Luis Figo was one of the best players of his era. The energetic winger could play on either flank as well as centrally and cause carnage whenever he was on the ball. His little tricks could bamboozle players and he could always produce something when he was on the ball. It was why he was the captain that took Portugal to the last four in 2006. Through these performances, Figo earned a nomination in the 2006 FIFA All-Star Team and further cementing himself as an all-round legend in the game.
Even though Pauleta’s club career was plagued by injuries, he was always ready to step it up for his country. Pauleta was a prime finisher who could be relied upon to convert any chance he was presented. It was why he became a key fixture in Portugal’s World Cup squads in 2002 and 2006. His best performance came in the 2002 World Cup scoring a hat-trick in their group-game against Poland. He would net just once in the 2006 World Cup tournament although he featured in every game of that tournament. With 4 goals, Pauleta is the third-leading scorer for Portugal in their World Cup era and a icon of that generation.
For many decades, Eusebio was considered the greatest Portuguese player of all time. A lethal finisher, Eusebio could take on an entire team and cause emerge damage for his side to be victorious. This was particularly the case at the 1966 World Cup when Portugal made their debut in the competition. It was here where as Portugal captain, he scored 9 goals and helped them finish third overall. Not only did Eusebio win the Golden Boot, he was also named BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year too underlining how influential he was that year. It’s why Eusebio’s efforts are still unmatched by any Portuguese player with no player having scored more at a World Cup since then.
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo
Aside from winning the tournament itself, there’s not much Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t done at the World Cup. With his all-round game having no real weaknesses, Ronaldo has always been the lynchpin of Portugal’s impressive efforts. Having appeared in 4 World Cups, Ronaldo has scored 7 times and is the only Portuguese player to score in multiple World Cup tournaments. Furthermore, his 17 appearances for his country at the World Cup is streets ahead of any other Portuguese player at the World Cup. Yet another feather to add in the cap of one of the greatest players of all time.