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Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Portugal’s great hope. Cristiano Ronaldo will go into the tournament as the reigning World Footballer of the Year, as well as the consensus best player in the World. The Portuguese captain is at the height of his individual ability, although there are concerns about his fitness.

Once widely criticized for his perceived lack of productivity with the national team, Ronaldo is now Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He proved that he could lead his country deep in a major tournament at Euro 2012. However, the 29-year-old needs to win the World Cup to establish himself as one of the greatest players in history.

This Season: It was another excellent season for the global superstar. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 31 goals in La Liga, winning the Pichichi award as the league’s top scorer. He also set a new single season record for Champions League goals with 17, helping Real Madrid win La Décima.

Fun Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo was recently named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. His profile was written by none other than Pelé who compares the Real Madrid forward to former Portuguese international Eusébio. He writes that the two have ‘the same elegance and creativity.’

Nani, Manchester United

The Manchester United winger is almost as vital to Portugal’s success as Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani is coming off an injury-plagued season. A healthy and productive Nani would be a major boost to Portugal’s chances. He has formed a good partnership with Ronaldo in the past.

This will be Nani’s third major tournament with Portugal. He was forced to withdraw from the 2010 World Cup because of a shoulder injury. Nani had a good Euro 2012, which included being named the Man of the Match in Portugal’s 3-2 group stage win against Denmark.

This Season: Nani struggled through groin and hamstring injuries this season. He played in only 11 League matches for Manchester United.

Fun Fact: Nani is trained in Capoeira, a kind of Brazilian martial arts dance. He has been known to celebrate a goal by doing the ‘Leap of death’ move.

Vieirinha, Wolfsburg

The 28-year-old was an excellent player for Portugal’s youth squads but only received his first senior selection in March 2013. Vieirinha has put together some excellent performances for the Seleção in limited action.

Vieirinha suffered a serious knee injury last September and was thought to be ruled out for the World Cup. He returned in time to play in Wolfsburg’s final Bundesliga matches. A product of FC Porto’s academy, Vieirinha moved to Greek club PAOK in 2008. He was signed by Wolfsburg in 2012 after several stellar seasons.

This Season: Vieirinha appeared in 11 Bundesliga matches for Wolfsburg. The German club finished a solid fifth in the league table.

Fun Fact: Vieirinha was named the Player of the Tournament at the 2003 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, which Portugal won by beating rivals Spain in the final. He was also named PAOK’s Player of the Season twice, as well as the Greek Super League’s Best Foreign Player in 2011.

Silvestre Varela, FC Porto

The 29-year-old has been primarily used as an impact substitute during his time with the Seleção. He scored a memorable goal against Denmark to give Portugal a 3-2 win in the group stage of Euro 2012. He currently has 22 caps for Portugal.

Silvestre Varela is a graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s youth academy. But after spending several seasons on loan, he moved to Estrela Amadora. FC Porto signed him in 2009 and he has been a productive player for the club ever since. He has won the Primeira Liga on three occasions, the Portuguese Cup twice, and the Europa League in 2010-11.

This Season: Silvestre Varela played in 25 League matches for FC Porto, scoring five goals and adding another five assists. But the Dragões had a very disappointing season by their standards, finishing third in the league table.

Fun Fact: Silvestre Varela appeared to be a lock for South Africa 2010 after an impressive first season with Porto. However, he broke his left fibula in training ruling him out for the entire tournament.

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