Two years on from Portugal’s Euro 2016 win, it’s still difficult to know what to think of it.
On the one hand, they won the tournament, and that’s all that matters. They beat the hosts in the final, Cristiano Ronaldo finally got his hands on a major international trophy, and nobody in Portugal cares how they did it.
But Portugal were more than a little fortunate to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy. They won only one match in normal time, drew all three of their group matches despite a very favourable draw, and didn’t face one of the main competitors until the final. And if Ronaldo thought that winning the trophy would end the Lionel Messi comparisons, he was sorely mistaken.
Still, it was an impressive achievement after their ignominious early exit from the 2014 World Cup. Since reaching the semi finals in 2006 Portugal have only beaten North Korea and Ghana at the World Cup, and they still seem to rely very heavily on one tactic: give it to Ronaldo and pray. Not a bad tactic, to be fair.
Ronaldo is 33 now and the World Cup is the only major honour which still eludes him. After Messi finally shone at a major finals in 2014, the pressure is on his nemesis to do the same this summer. The clock is ticking.
How They Qualified
For most of their qualifying campaign, it looked like Portugal would need a playoff to decide their World Cup fate for a third consecutive tournament.
After losing their opening game to Switzerland, Portugal won their next eight matches – but so did the Swiss. It all came down to the reverse fixture between the two in Lisbon, where Portugal won 2-0 to advance to the finals on goal difference.
It would have been harsh if Portugal hadn’t qualified. They scored 32 goals in their group, a number eclipsed only by Germany, Spain and Belgium. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 of those goals – only Poland’s Robert Lewandowski netted more in the European section.
Portugal also conceded just four goals; only Spain and England let in fewer. The group might not have been the hardest, but it shows that Fernando Santos’ team has quality at both ends of the field.
Group Stage Games
Despite being seeded for the draw, Portugal ended up in the same group as Iberian neighbours Spain – and their campaign begins against Julen Lopetegui’s side in Sochi on 15 June. Spain’s last two World Cups have begun with a defeat, so Portugal will hope to capitalise on another slow start.
The second game takes Portugal to Moscow for what many people think will be the decisive game in the group against Morocco. Defeat to Spain in the opening match coupled with a Morocco win over Iran would leave Portugal needing a win to keep their fate in their own hands.
It’s likely to come down to the final game against Iran in Saransk on 25 June. The familiar face of Carlos Queiroz awaits in the Iran dugout, but even his in-depth knowledge of Portugal is unlikely to save Iran. Portugal should win that one, and hopefully that will be enough.
Possible Route to the Final
Group B is a good group of qualify from, as it guarantees a last 16 clash with a side from the weak Group A.
The most likely outcome is that Portugal will finish 2nd in their group to set up a second round meeting with Uruguay. This would be a very evenly-matched affair but Portugal showed in 2016 that they know how to navigate a tight knockout match.
Win there, and you’re looking at a Euro 2016 rematch against France in the quarter finals. Two years on, a hardened French side are unlikely to make the same mistakes and that will be probably be the end of the road for Portugal.
If they do get through to the semis, Brazil are the most likely opponents followed by Argentina, Spain or Germany in the final. Anyone for a Ronaldo vs Messi showdown?
Fernando Santos has named his 23 man squad for the World Cup. Euro 2016 final goalscorer Eder and young player of the tournament Renato Sanches are among those who miss out.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes, Beto, Rui Patricio
Defenders: Bruno Alves
Midfielders: Adrien Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho, Manuel Fernandes, William Carvalho
Forwards: Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gelson Martins, Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma
(4-4-2) Rui Patricio; Raphael Guerreiro, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares; Joao Mario, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva
One man teams don’t win major tournaments. Ronaldo went off after 25 minutes of the Euro 2016 final and Portugal went on to win, so clearly they can survive without him. But…
A lot will depend on Portugal’s talisman. If he’s on it from the word go then Portugal could even top their group, and a last 16 meeting with Egypt or Russia would be much more winnable than one against Uruguay. And once you reach the quarter finals – with Ronaldo in form – who knows?
On the other hand, if Ronaldo goes missing for the first two games like he did at the Euros and the last World Cup, Portugal could already be out by the time he comes to the party. Because if he doesn’t get the goals, who will? Probable strike partner Andre Silva only scored twice in 24 Serie A appearances for Milan this season.
The most likely outcome is that Portugal will go out in the last 16 or the quarter finals. If Uruguay don’t eliminate them, then France or Argentina will. Despite winning Euro 2016 they remain outside that elite group of nations, and nobody is really expecting them to challenge for the trophy.
Mind you, we’ve said that before.