The Real Madrid defender remains hopeful of qualifying for the round of 16, while Paulo Bento has stressed he will not resign if they crash out at the group stages
By Stefan Coerts in Brasilia
Portugal defender Pepe remains optimistic about his side’s chances of reaching the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup despite their poor start to the competition.
Head coach Paulo Bento’s men currently sit fourth in Group G with just one point from two games after a 4-0 defeat against Germany and a 2-2 draw versus USA.
They now need a big win over Ghana on matchday three, while the result of the other game in their group between Germany and USA also needs to go their way if they are to reach the round of 16, but Pepe is refusing to give up ahead of Thursday’s encounter in Brasilia.
“I do believe in miracles. I think we can still make it. It will be difficult, but we have to fight,” the Madrid defender told reporters at the pre-match press conference.
“Portugal have always been willing to fight and we will do just that against Ghana, even with all the difficulties we have been experiencing.
“We know that Ghana have very fast players, especially on the wings. They have an amazing attack. But we also know that they need a win as well in order to qualify. We will have to give our all.”
Pepe was shown a straight red card against Germany in Portugal’s opening match, yet he feels the referee’s decision was harsh and believes the Seleccao in general were treated unfairly during the game.
“My direct red card against Germany wasn’t really aggression, which is why I got only one game rather than two or three,” he added.
“The red card was very harsh, we deserved a penalty, German players could have been sent off. But nobody mentioned this…
“We made mistakes, but never lost our mind or control. The press create certain issues, but we are aware of what we can do. We shouldn’t be in this situation with our quality.
“I feel sorry to have put my team in a difficult position, but there’s still hope and we will not give up. We can still qualify.”
Head coach Paulo Bento, meanwhile, refused to believe that Germany and USA will play for a draw in their Group G encounter to ensure they both progress at the expense of Portugal and Ghana.
“I am not afraid that we won’t qualify or that USA and Germany will play out a draw,” he insisted. “We have a match coming up and so do Germany and USA. Football is also about honour. We have to respect the other teams.
“We are just trying to prepare in the best way possible during the training sessions, like we have done for previous games. We will be looking to pick the best strategy based on our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and our own characteristics.”
The Portugal boss also touched on his side’s injury problems as players such as Fabio Coentrao, Rui Patricio, Hugo Almeida, Helder Postiga and Andre Almeida have all picked up knocks since the start of the tournament, while Cristiano Ronaldo is still battling a persistent knee problem.
“I have complete faith in our medical team,” Bento added. “I will study and analyse things after the World Cup.”
There are question marks over Bento’s future as Portugal boss after the World Cup, but the 45-year-old insists he has no intentions of stepping down if they fail to qualify for the round of 16.
“My future with Portugal? I have a contract with the federation that doesn’t depend on results here at the World Cup,” he continued.
“I will not resign if we don’t qualify. These questions are asked before every important game, but my plans remain the same.”