Led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal defied the odds to win the 2016 European Championship, upsetting favourites France in the final.
Portugal often head into major tournaments with the dark-horses tag and in some cases are even labeled as underdogs. It was the same in 2016 when the Cristiano Ronaldo-led side travelled to France. But they defied the odds to lift the trophy, upsetting favourites and hosts France in the final with an extra-time goal from Eder. Fast forward five years and this time Portugal will go into a tournament for the first time as a defending champion. It is a different kind of pressure, which is something the country has never experienced. They did win the UEFA Nations League two years ago, beating the Netherlands in the final to remind the continent about their ability. But the Euros is a totally different ball game.
Let us analyse the Portugal team in detail to see if they have what it takes to defend their title:
Creativity: This is arguably the best squad Portugal has had in a long time. There is no dearth of attacking players in the squad. From Manchester United’s talisman Bruno Fernandes to Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Pedro Goncalves (Sporting CP) and Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), they have a lot of creativity in the attacking third. The forwards can expect plenty of services from them and it is undoubtedly the best time to be a Portugal striker.
In-form players: Most of their star players are heading into the tournament on the back of impressive performances with the club. Fernandes was United’s best player as they finished second in the Premier League and reached the Europa League final. Man City trio Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo starred in an almost all-conquering City team. Ronaldo as usual continued to break records for Juventus, while Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), Guedes and Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton) impressed for their respective clubs.
Portugal have some of the best full-backs in the tournament. They have good options in the right-back with Cancelo and Nelson Semedo (Wolverhampton), and left-back – Nuno Mendes (Sporting Lisbon) and Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund). But their centre-back options are a bit worrying. Dias is their best player in that department and is in fine form after winning the Premier League Player of the Season award.
But he lacks a reliable partner. Former Real Madrid defender Pepe is 38, while Jose Fonte (Lille) is 37 years. It is uncertain whether they will be able to play the full 90 minutes in a short-gap between each match in the month-long tournament. These three are the only ones in the squad who regularly play as a centre-back for their clubs. Head coach Fernando Santos will have to hope that no one in that position gets injured during the tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo is just six goals shy of the all-time international scoring record. The Juventus forward has scored 103 goals for the Portugal national team and is second behind former Iranian footballer Ali Daei’s tally of 109 goals. The 36-year-old has an opportunity to equal or overtake his record this summer.
Portugal are placed in what is being called the “Group of death” alongside France, Germany and Hungary in Group F. Normally, Germany and France would be deemed as the favourites to qualify but being the defending champions, the Ronaldo-led side might have a good chance of progressing through. Besides, four of the best third-placed teams will also qualify for the knockout stages, meaning all the big three teams can still make it out of the group.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Rui Patricio (Wolverhampton), Rui Silva (Granada).
Defenders: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Nelson Semedo (Wolverhampton), Jose Fonte (Lille), Pepe (Porto), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Nuno Mendes (Sporting Lisbon), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund).
Midfielders: Danilo Pereira (PSG), Joao Palhinha (Sporting Lisbon), Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Moutinho (Wolverhampton), Renato Sanches (Lille), Sergio Oliveira (Porto), William Carvalho (Betis).
Forwards: Pedro Goncalves (Sporting CP), Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Rafa Silva (Benfica).