A star of Portugal’s World Cup 2010 campaign, Liverpool new-boy Raul Meireles is regarded by many as one of the finest all-round midfielders in Europe. Meireles shot to prominence as he helped his country to glory in the UEFA European U16 Championships in 2000, while at club level, he impressed sufficiently at CD Aves to secure a move to Boavista.
He spent just one term at the Estadio do Bessa before Portuguese superpowers FC Porto came calling for his services in 2004. After overcoming a difficult start to life at his hometown club, in which he was utilised in an unfamiliar left-back role, 2005-06 saw Meireles establish himself as a regular in his more natural central midfield position.
His dominant and dynamic performances alongside Lucho Gonzalez helped Porto to a treble of league title, Portuguese Cup and Super Cup, as well as earning him international recognition with Portugal. Meireles was also beginning to make an impact in the Champions League and netted against Chelsea in the last 16 of the 2006-07 campaign.
He then figured in both matches of Porto’s tussles with Liverpool in the group stage of the following season’s tournament. League title successes were again achieved in 2008 and 2009, making it four in a row for Porto, with Meireles instrumental thanks to his outstanding long-range passing ability and penchant for spectacular goals.
His international career was picking up pace too. He was a member of Portugal’s squad for Euro 2008 and scored his first international goal at the tournament with a strike against Turkey. But by the time qualifying for World Cup 2010 began, Meireles’s club performances demanded he be a regular starter for his nation.
He figured in every match en route to South Africa and netted a decisive goal in the play-off clash against Bosnia-Herzegovina to help the Portuguese book their place at the tournament. Meireles started all four of Portugal’s matches in the finals and scored the opener in the 7-0 rout of North Korea, before being eliminated by eventual winners Spain in the first knockout round. Nonetheless, his disappointment soon subsided when he secured a move to Anfield two months later.