Portugal Euro 2020 Preview

Portugal Euro 2020

The Portugal national team has always managed to squeeze the most out of whatever quality they’ve had at their disposal in major tournaments. The current European Champions by no means cruised to their victory in France back in 2016. But their grit and unity made up where talent lacked. Eder’s extra-time goal in the grand finale against the hosts allowed A Seleção to finally get revenge for their 2004 final defeat.

17 years later, Portugal has put together arguably one of their strongest squads since those star-studded teams of the 2000s. Still built around the mammoth that is Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Manchester United forward has a supporting cast that matches his lofty ambitions once again.

Euro 2020 and the World Cup in Qatar next year may very well be a couple of farewell tournaments for Ronaldo. With that, Portugal now looks well equipped to try and send off one of the all-time greats with some silverware.

Key Players

It has been a while since Portugal had as many stars as they do in their fold right now heading into a major tournament. The Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 sides spring to mind. The likes of Deco, Pedro Pauleta, Ricardo Carvalho, and Cristiano Ronaldo himself are all firmly engraved in and epitomize Portuguese folklore.

Almost two decades have passed since those teams massively underachieved on the big stage considering their talent level. But now, with the delayed Euro 2020 looming, many A Seleção players are once again amongst the world’s elite.

Cristiano and his understudies

Fernando Santos’ side will be spearheaded by Juventus’ Ronaldo for the fifth Euros in succession. Frustrated by his shortcomings at club level, Portugal’s skipper bagged 36 goals in all competitions and took home the Serie A golden boot last season. But by his standards, individual accolades are not enough. He will undoubtedly be hungry to lead this talent-packed side towards a successful title defense.

By his side will be a potent strike force and a midfield that enjoys chipping in with goal contributions. Donning the No. 9, Andre Silva had a breakout campaign in Germany last season — scoring 29 times in all competitions for Eintracht Frankfurt. A goal tally right on par with Erling Haaland and just behind Robert Lewandowski.

Also in the fold is Liverpool’s Diogo Jota. The 24-year-old scored 13 goals in all competitions for the former English champions and has already proved to be a reliable outlet for the national team with his positional versatility. Santos will also have the still untapped potentials of young Joao Felix and Goncalo Guedes at his disposal.

Star-studded midfield and backline

Portugal’s midfield features the likes of experienced Joao Moutinho, Renato Sanches, William Carvalho, and Ruben Neves. But it is quite clearly headlined by the red and blue Manchester duo of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva.

Fernandes enjoyed a monster first full season in the Premier League as the Manchester United talisman netted 28 times and recorded 17 assists in all competitions. He was right up there in the Premier League golden boot race — from midfield — too. Silva’s numbers were lesser with five goals and nine assists in all competitions for City. Santos will hope that his No. 10 has saved his best performances for the Euros.

A Seleção’s defense will be marshaled by veteran Pepe and the emerging superstar and consensus Premier League Player of the Season, Ruben Dias.

With so much attacking firepower — even from full-back with the adventurous likes of Joao Cancelo, Nuno Mendes, and Nelson Semedo — Portugal desperately needed defensive solidity at the core of their team. The safe hands of Rui Patricio along with the aforementioned center-back duo and Carvalho should provide enough cover for their teammates’ attacking prowess to shine.

Recent Form

Santos’ side will head into their Euro 2020 opener against Hungary on June 15 in high spirits after a confidence-boosting 4-0 dismantling of Israel in their final preparation game. Goals from Ronaldo, Cancelo, and a brace from Bruno saw A Seleção cruise past their opponents in a dominant display. Portugal drew 0-0 with Spain last week in their other pre-tournament friendly.

Overall, over the last year, the Portuguese have been consistent. Though they didn’t manage to defend their Nations League crown, they came second in their group behind another European powerhouse — and Euros group rival — France. They also started 2021 well — with seven points from three games to begin their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Losing just once in their last nine competitive outings bodes well ahead of their “group of death” Euro 2020 campaign.

How Far Will They Go?

On talent alone, you would expect Portugal to be right there at the business end of the tournament. But if one thing about football is for certain — it’s that it is an unpredictable game. Santos’ side was not done any favors in the group stage draw.

Portugal landed in a bit of a worst-case scenario group with World Cup winners France, Germany, and a technically weakest — but unpredictable — Hungary.

What’s important to note here, first of all, is that Germany and Hungary will have the advantage of playing their games on home soil as they are both host nations. The Germans will play all three of their group games at Allianz Arena. The Hungarians will host two of their matches. While not ideal, the route to a championship is never easy. Both Portugal and France will have to adapt and step up to the occasion.

As always, A Seleção is amongst the five or six favorites tipped to go all the way. And with four ‘best’ third placed teams qualifying to the knockout stages — it would have to be some sort of a disaster if the Portuguese were not present in the latter stages of the tournament.

One-off games are tricky — decided by the finest of margins. But if this Portugal squad lives up to its true potential, what’s stopping Ronaldo and co. walking out at Wembley on July 11 for the final? They will be a tough out.

Author: Arion Armeniakos

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