WOMEN'S WORLD CUP 2023
Women’s World Cup 2023: Portugal in-depth team guide and prediction
Full information on the Portugal team ahead of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand: the coach, star player, rising star...
Here’s your guide to the Portugal side at the Women’s World Cup 2023. This article is part of a collaboration with the Guardian along with leading newspapers from each of the participating countries at the tournament.
Written by Berta Rodrigues for Maisfutebol.
Portugal booked their first appearance at a Women’s World Cup with the last breath of their 13th qualification game. No team played as many games en route to Australia and New Zealand. After 10 matches and a second place behind Germany in the group stage, followed by two victories in the European playoffs against Belgium and Iceland, Carole Costa scored in the fourth minute of injury time in the intercontinental playoff with Cameroon. Her winning penalty finally qualified Portugal.
“It is the happiest day of our lives,” said the defender, one of the senior players in the team, remembering in her celebrations the previous generations of players “who fought for this moment”.
Qualification is the team’s highest point and the main sign of the evolution of Portuguese women’s football. That has led to the first appearances of the national team in women’s Euros, in 2017 and 2022, and now to this unprecedented qualification for the biggest stage of all.
Portugal’s growth has been built around a core group of players who have made this journey together over many years: seven of the World Cup squad have 100 or more caps. They are joined by several other players with international experience and also some new blood, with the talent of Kika Nazareth standing out.
“This is a team with lots of ambition, with many players having an incredible journey with us,” said the coach, Francisco Neto. “We have in the squad 12 players who were at the 2017 European Championship and 19 who went to the last Euros. They are athletes who have grown up in adversity, but show that they are capable of responding. That’s why we are where we are.”
With players who know each other with their eyes closed, Portugal tend to play in a 4-4-2 (diamond) or 4-3-3 system and are eager to improve in competing at the highest level. The main strength of the team is cohesion, the group spirit that has led them to break down barriers.
Francisco Neto was 32 when he took over the women’s national team. In nine years, he has led Portugal to major competitions for the first time, capitalising on the momentum that the sport has gained in recent times. Neto began his coaching journey at the age of 20, worked with younger teams and as technical coordinator, and ended his coaching training with one of the best grades on the course – ahead, for example, of Sérgio Conceição, the coach of Porto.
Neto has already renewed his contract until 2027, but is concentrating on the World Cup, working on ways to deal with strong teams like the USA and the Netherlands. “We know that we will often be under pressure and it is impossible to spend 90 minutes just defending,” he said. “We want to be able to have the ball, dominate some parts of the game and grow at that moment. We’ve been working on it, we’re better, but we want to grow to be able to compete with these teams.”
“I have an individual prize here, but that is not important today, because we won everything: we won qualification for the World Cup.” The player of the match award for the playoff that took Portugal to the World Cup was another milestone in a great season for Tatiana Pinto, the 29-year-old midfielder who is experiencing the best phase of her career.
Like many of her generation, Pinto played with boys until her teens as there were no female youth teams. After spells at Sand in Germany and Bristol City, she played five seasons at Sporting and in 2021 moved to Levante. Last season, the dynamic midfielder was one of the highlights of a team that finished third in the Spanish league, scoring 12 goals and making three assists.
Kika Nazareth is already more than just promising. At age 20, she has phenomenal talent, creativity and everything necessary to be Portugal’s big star of the future. In the World Cup qualification campaign, she played 10 games, six of them in the starting lineup, and scored three goals. “We must look at ourselves and see the potential and talent we have, we must believe,” said the Benfica player. “I am confident. If we make it through the group stage, the goal is to win everything.”
Did you know?
Ana Borges, Portugal’s most capped player, played three seasons at Chelsea, where she won the WSL and the FA Cup before returning to Portugal to play at Sporting. José Mourinho was in London, during his second spell with the Blues, and gave her some advice. Borges told Maisfutebol: “My trainer said I was very good but I didn’t like the gym. He told me to tell her I didn’t need the gym, I needed to have the ball at my feet.”
Standing of women’s football in Portugal
In March, a derby between Benfica and Sporting was watched by 27,211 people in Estádio da Luz, shattering the record for a women’s game in Portugal. It would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. It’s another milestone in the growth of women’s football, fueled by the investment of the Portuguese FA and joined by some of the big clubs, such as Sporting, Benfica and Braga. A stronger domestic league, launched in 2016, led to the return of some of the best Portuguese players and to wider public attention, with games broadcast on the FA channel. Still, there remains a world of distance from the men’s game, first of all in the number of players. Among more than 200,000 registered players, between football and futsal, only around 15,000 are women.
Realistic aim at the World Cup?
“We want to reach the last group-stage game with the USA able to qualify for the next stage. If we arrive already qualified, even better.” This is how Neto defines the team’s goal: Portugal do not want to only stay in New Zealand in Group E, they want to go to Australia where the round of 16 will be played. But in such a strong group, that would represent an incredible feat for Portugal, 21st in the Fifa rankings. After finishing fourth in the group at the last two Euros, the most realistic aim is third place.