|Is this Ronaldo’s last chance to win the World Cup? (Image from Sky Sports)|
When it comes to Portugal, one man steals the spotlight – Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal may have many talented players, but they all seem to fall under his shadow. The stage is set for the former Man United star to cement himself as one of the greatest footballers of all time, by achieving success on the international stage and be amongst the names of legends such as Maradona, Pele and Cruyff. Bringing home the one major trophy he is yet to win would be the pinnacle of his already incredibly illustrious career. But with Ronaldo still at his peak and the fact that he will be 37 in 2022, Russia looks seemingly like his last his chance to win the World Cup.
|Euro 2016 champions (image from TRT World)|
After winning Euro 2016, there is more pressure on Portugal to deliver a successive trophy from the fans. Although Portugal did win the Euros, it wasn’t quite the stellar performance expected of European champions, since they didn’t win a single game in their group stage and only just about scraped through to the knockout phase. But it was a trophy nonetheless and Portugal’s first major one. Portugal are yet to win the World Cup, with their best finish being 3rd place in 1966 and more recently came 4th in 2006.
Portugal sailed through their qualifiers, winning all their matches apart from a slight hiccup, where they lost to Switzerland. As expected, Ronaldo was their country’s top scorer during qualifiers with 15 goals, but Andre Silva also impressed, netting 9 goals en route to the World Cup. Portugal haven’t been entirely convincing in their friendlies leading up to the Russia. This includes a 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands and drawing 2-2 with Tunisia, after taking a 2-0 lead. However, performances have improved in their warm-up games, which included a 0-0 stalemate with Belgium and a comfortable 3-0 win over Algeria.
Ronaldo may be their star player but there is more to this Portugal side than their captain. Several of Portugal’s key players during the Euro 2016 campaign didn’t make the squad for this World Cup, most noticeably Renato Sanches, who won young player of the tournament but failed to make an impression when on loan at a struggling Swansea side in the season just gone.
Portugal tend to play a 4-4-2 formation, usually with Rui Patricio in goal. Their defence could be one of the weak points of the team. Although veterans Pepe (35 years old) and Bruno Alves (36 years old) are both solid experienced defenders, they are both considerably old now and could be undone by the pace of the opposition’s attack. Their defence will most likely be completed by Southampton’s right back Cedric Soares and Borussia Dortmund’s left back Rafael Guerreiro. Portugal play with a more defensively orientated flat midfield, with William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho capable of providing extra cover for the back four. Portugal’s style of play may not always be entertaining to watch, but they are capable of grinding out the result they need.
|Will Goncalo Guedes get a chance to impress? (Image from SL Benfica)|
Despite often taking a cautious defensive approach, Portugal still pose a huge threat up front, spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo who is supported by Andre Silva (sometimes playing in on behind Ronaldo), with the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Man City ace Bernardo Silva out wide in midfield, who can deliver key balls into the box. Young, promising winger Goncalo Guedes staked his claim to the starting 11 after scoring a brace in their recent game against Algeria and he could be one to watch during the tournament.
How far will they go?
Portugal are in group B of the World Cup, placed with Spain, Morocco and Iran. They are expected to win comfortably against Morocco and Iran, but their opening game against Spain will be tough. Spain have a very strong team and are amongst the favourites to win the trophy as they look to put the woes of the 2014 World Cup behind them, so I can see Spain coming top of the group.
|Portugal’s manager Fernando Santos|
If Portugal do finish second, they face a tough route to the final, most likely to play Uruguay in the round of 16 (as they are favourites to top Group A) and could play France in the quarters. I don’t expect Portugal to progress to the semi finals and I think that a quarter final exit is most likely. Portugal do have a talented team but I don’t think it is on the same level as the likes of Spain, Brazil and France, who have a much greater all-round squad depth. But manager Fernando Santos has already brought home a major international trophy when they weren’t favourites, and the team will have to believe that they can produce the results to bring home another one.