LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal has long been admired for producing talented players, and their flair has earned them the tag of “the Brazilians of Europe.”
But Portugal heads to the World Cup still looking for its champagne moment after coming up short at past tournaments. The Portuguese lost in the final at the 2004 European Championship and in the semifinals at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Here are five players to watch:
Along with Lionel Messi and Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world-class stars expected to light up the tournament.
Since his debut at 18 in 2003, Ronaldo has grown into the Portuguese team’s dominant figure. Now 29, he will arguably be at the peak of his international career in Brazil.
Ronaldo has been in deadly form in front of goal. This season, he became Portugal’s all-time leading scorer and has also surpassed Real Madrid great Ferenc Puskas’ mark of 242 goals for the Spanish club.
Portugal and Brazil are bound by centuries of history, family ties and a shared language. While Brazilian talent at European clubs is a common sight, Portugal has turned to its one-time colony for the national team, too, as many Brazilian players are entitled to dual nationality.
Pepe is one of them, and has made 57 appearances since his 2007 debut. The 31-year-old Real Madrid defender is a mainstay who can also add muscle to the midfield.
Before him on the list of Brazilian-born Portugal players were midfielder Deco, who appeared 75 times for Portugal, starting out under Luiz Felipe Scolari — another Brazilian and Portugal’s longest-serving coach, between 2003 and 2008 — and Liedson, a striker who made 15 appearances.
Monaco midfielder Joao Moutinho keeps a low profile, but his vision, expert passing and high work rate have made him the focal point of Portugal’s attacking moves.
Moutinho has made 66 appearances since 2005, though in Brazil he will be looking to build on his meager two-goal tally.
He produced a standout performance in Portugal’s semifinal match at the 2012 European Championship before missing the target in a penalty shootout that gave Spain victory.
Manchester United winger Nani has had a miserable time over the past year due to injuries and poor form. The World Cup offers him the stage for a comeback.
Nani’s peak form at his Premier League club came in the 2010-11 season when his teammates voted him their player of the season. Hopes were high that Portugal had discovered another Cristiano Ronaldo.
But since then Nani has faded, and he didn’t find the net for 16 months up to October’s qualifier against Luxembourg when he stood in for Ronaldo as team captain.
Defensive midfielder William Carvalho is regarded as one of Portugal’s promising newcomers.
Carvalho was named the Portuguese league’s player of the month for three straight months between October and December. In November, he made his first two national team appearances, coming on as a substitute in a tense playoff match against Sweden and impressing with his composure.
Like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, he is a product of Sporting Lisbon’s youth academy.
Carvalho, who will be 22 at the World Cup, is highly regarded for his powerful physique and heading skills, impressive reading of the game, and speed at tipping play from defense to attack.