LISBON (Reuters) - Factbox on the Portugal national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 4 (until June 7)
Portugal will be appearing at their eighth World Cup and sixth in a row. Their best performance was on their debut in 1966 when they finished third after losing to England in the semi-finals and they reached the semi-finals in 2006 before losing to France. They went out in the group stage in 2002 and 2014 and lost to Spain in the round of 16 in 2010.
Fernando Santos: The 63-year-old is a former defender who played for Estoril and Maritimo. After retiring, he intended to pursue a career in electrical engineering, in which he is qualified, but a twist of fate took him into coaching. He has managed all Portugal’s big three, Benfica, Porto and Sporting, and led Greece to Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup. He replaced Paulo Bento after Portugal lost their opening Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Albania, led them to the Euro 2016 title and has lost only once in 29 competitive internationals.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal’s captain, most capped player and all-time leading scorer remains, at the age of 33, a fundamental presence for Portugal — even when not playing, as he showed by encouraging the team from the touchline during the Euro 2016 final.
Some feel his habit of hogging free kicks and penalties is not healthy and that his presence is a burden for his team mates, but his record of 81 goals in 149 games speaks for itself.
Pepe: The linchpin of the defense for the best part of a decade although his rash tackles, explosive fits of temper and liberal use of gamesmanship make him many people’s pantomime villain.
He let down the team when he was sent off in the first half of the 4-0 defeat by Germany in the 2014 World Cup but held the back line together magnificently in the Euro 2016 final against France. Born in Brazil and moved to Portugal as an 18-year-old.
William Carvalho: Known as “Sir William” by fans of his club Sporting, Carvalho was born in Angola and moved to Portugal as a child.
Physically imposing, he forms a defensive wall in front of the Portugal defense and is remarkably calm in possession, providing excellent distribution, though he sometimes looks cumbersome and slow.
Portugal have won their last nine competitive internationals although their form in friendlies since qualifying has been more erratic, with two wins, a draw and an embarrassing 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands.
How they qualified:
Portugal topped their group on goal difference ahead of the Switzerland. After losing to the Swiss in their opening match, they won their remaining nine fixtures
Along with neighbors Spain, Portugal appear to be favorites to progress from Group B which also contains Morocco and Iran. But facing Spain in their opener could complicate things as defeat would leave them playing catch-up. Their second match against Morocco will stir unhappy memories of a 3-1 defeat by the North Africans at the 1986 finals while the Iran match brings them face to face with their former coach Carlos Queiroz. Russia, Egypt, Uruguay or Saudi Arabia await in the second round while France and Argentina are among possible quarter-final opponents.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Ed Osmond