Portugal looks to get over the hump at Euro 2016


Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Portugal. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Portugal has done very well for itself at the European Championship in recent times. Quarterfinalists in 1996 and again in 2008, they reached the final four and finished third in 2000 and 2012, and lost to Greece in the 2004 final on home soil. Can they finally get over the hump and win it all this summer in France? With Cristiano Ronaldo still at the height of his powers, and this perhaps his last chance at European glory, it’s certainly a possibility.

Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Eduardo (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Cedric (Southampton), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Carvalho (Monaco), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Jose Fonte (Southampton), Eliseu (Benfica), Raphael Guerreiro (Lorient).
Midfielders: William Carvalho (Sporting), Danilo Pereira (FC Porto), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Renato Sanches (Benfica), Adrien Silva (Sporting), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Joao Mario (Sporting).
Forwards: Rafa Silva (SC Braga), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Nani (Fenerbahce), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (Lille).

A veteran manager who has worked extensively in Portugal and Greece at club level, Fernando Santos has been in charge of the national team since 2014. He took over after Paulo Bento was fired following Portugal’s opening loss to Albania in the qualifiers, and proceeded to lead his team to seven consecutive victories. A pragmatic tactician who stresses defensive organization, Santos previously served as manager of Greece, helping that country reach the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 and the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup.

4-3-3: (GK) Patricio – (D) Eliseu, Pepe, Carvalho, Vieirinha – (M) Pereira, Moutinho, Mario – (F) Silva, Ronaldo, Nani

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Group F Schedule
June 14: vs. Iceland in Saint-Etienne
June 18: vs. Austria in Paris
June 22 vs. Hungary in Lyon

Portugal’s qualifying campaign got off to a rocky start—they lost their opening game to Albania at home. After a coaching change, it was smooth sailing, as the Portuguese won their remaining seven matches under Fernando Santos to comfortably top their group by seven points over second-place Albania and nine points over third-place Denmark. Impressively, Portugal only conceded five goals in eight qualifying matches.

Portugal has a number of quality options in midfield (Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho foremost among them), which allows manager Fernando Santos to change formations and tactics during games if needed. It’s an aging defence (Pepe and Ricard Carvalho) but the back line conceded just five goals in eight qualifying games. There’s also a nice mix of veterans and young stars on this squad. And then, of course, there’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The most glaring one is a complete lack of a proven goal-scorer up front. Eder is the only truly recognized outright striker on this team, which means Ronaldo will be deployed as central forward—he can play there, but it doesn’t make the best use of his dangerous ability to cut in off the wing. If opponents can shut Ronaldo down, then goal scoring could be a problem for Portugal.

Cristiano Ronaldo: The best player in the world competing at this tournament. Hugely important to his country, he’s a game-breaker who has routinely won games almost by himself. If Portugal has any ambitions of going far at Euro, Ronaldo has to be at his very best.

Joao Moutinho: A cultured footballer, the Monaco star is also very versatile, as he is able to play in the middle as a defensive or attacking midfielder, or operate down either flank. With over 80 caps, Moutinho is one of Portugal’s most steady and experienced hands.

Vieirinha: A standout with Wolfsburg, he’s considered one of the best right fullbacks in the Bundesliga—and this after he made the switch to the position after playing as a winger. He gives Portugal an attacking threat from out of defence.

If Cristiano Ronaldo gets injured or doesn’t play to his usual high standards, can Portugal go very far in this tournament? The Real Madrid star is a game-changer, and can often single-handedly win matches for his country. The issue has always been his supporting cast. Portugal needs a lot of players to have breakout tournaments and contribute—its fortunes can’t simply come down to how well Ronaldo does.

The draw was very kind to Portugal, as they were selected into a group with first-timers Iceland, as well as Austria and Hungary, both modest sides. You’d have to think that the Portuguese have enough quality to win this group, but their lack of depth at the forward position, and reliance on Ronaldo makes it’s hard to see them going on a run beyond the quarterfinals. But then again, if Ronaldo gets hot, look out!


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