Portugal shocked hosts France to be crowned European Champions in 2016, proving to the watching world that they have the mentality to win major tournaments. Although at times their performances were not pretty, they were capable of grinding out results in close games, a trait they may need to call on again in their heavyweight clash with Spain in the group stages.
The Portuguese head to Russia in the summer off the back of a convincing qualifying campaign, where they won nine of their ten games, with captain Christiano Ronaldo scoring 15 goals in his nine appearances. There can be no denying that confidence is high in the Portuguese camp, and it is expected that they will brush aside Morocco and Iran with relative ease. The real test will be against Spain, to determine who tops the group and gets the more favourable last 16 round match-up.
There will be some concern surrounding the age and fitness of the squad that will travel to Russia. The lack of alternatives for Pepe, Jose Fonte and Bruno Alves, who have a combined age of over 100, may leave them vulnerable to pacier attacking teams. Coach Fernando Santos will have to adjust his tactics to compensate for this, perhaps instructing the team to sit deeper. The downside to this option is that Ronaldo may not get the service he requires. Getting the balance correct between defence and attack will be crucial to Portugal’s success in Russia.
- Christiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Perhaps the greatest player the footballing world has ever seen, at 32 years of age, this is Ronaldo’s last chance to lead his country to World Cup glory. While his individual stats cannot be argued against, the most impressive part of Ronaldo’s performance in Euro 2016 was his demonstrated leadership, motivating his teammates to success in the final, even after he had to be replaced early on due to injury. An ever-present threat, it will be a significant challenge for any team to keep Ronaldo out.
- Andre Silva (Milan) – Newcomer Silva certainly announced himself in style, scoring nine goals in the qualifying campaign, including becoming the youngest ever player to score a hat trick for Portugal, netting three in their 6-0 victory over the Faroe Islands. He formed a lethal partnership with Ronaldo over the course of the qualifiers, and if they can link up successfully again in Russia, it could be argued that they can be the most devastating attacking partnership at the finals. A slight concern would be his lack of match fitness, having spent a lot of time on the bench this season for his club.
Fernando Santos – Santos has now spent three years in charge of Portugal, and with a record of winning all but one of the qualifying matches since he took over, combined with a European Championship trophy, he is considered Portugal’s greatest coach. The question is whether he can replicate the success of two years ago in Russia this summer.