June 14, 2018 / 5:53 PM / 10 months ago

Soccer: Under the radar Portugal aiming high - Moutinho

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - They are European Champions and have five-times World Player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks but few people have rated Portugal as World Cup favourites — and that is no big deal for Joao Moutinho.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Portugal Press Conference - Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 14, 2018 Portugal's Joao Moutinho during the press conference REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The Portuguese midfielder is well aware his country are flying under the radar as all the talk about possible champions focuses on the usual big names Brazil, Germany, France and Spain.

“We have talked a lot about that,” Moutinho told reporters ahead of Friday’s opening match against Spain. “The favourites are the ones you listed.

“Portugal is among the candidates to take this cup home. It is normal to have other favourites given all they have achieved. We are European champions but that doesn’t give us the right to be favourites.

“We have a young and focused team and an ambitious team that is aiming high.”

Portugal begin their tournament on Friday against Iberian neighbours Spain and are aiming to do something that only three teams have ever done before by winning the World Cup immediately after winning the Euros.

The generalised lack of belief in their chances may be related to their recent form, an old problem and a question mark surrounding team morale.

Portugal sailed through the qualifiers, winning nine of their 10 games, but their long unbeaten run ended in March and they drew their next two matches before recovering to win a final warmup friendly with Algeria last week.

Portugal also have struggled to get going in big tournaments and have not won their first group game since the 2008 Euros, a string of four fruitless openers.

There is also some conjecture about their mental preparations, with all four of the Sporting Lisbon players in the squad having cancelled their contracts with the club.

Moutinho acknowledged they need to start better but dismissed suggestions that the Sporting turmoil will have any effect on their challenge.

“We are all very focused on trying to reach our goals and that is what we have been doing,” he told reporters in Sochi, venue for Friday’s game.

“We need to focus on what we can do and we are not really looking at what is happening outside our team or with other teams. We know what to do and we know the responsibility we are facing.”

Editing by Ian Chadband

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