Portugal enter Euro 2020 as defending European champions having emerged triumphant in France five years ago. Since then, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. have backed that up by winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019 and are generally considered among the frontrunners to win again this summer.
While Portugal’s team of the late 1990s and early 2000s was billed as their ‘Golden Generation,’ this current crop could be the strongest the country has ever produced. Some say their Euro 2016 as a fluke, but the squad Fernando Santos will take to this summer’s tournament has very few weaknesses.
Most bookmakers have Portugal outside the top five favourites to win Euro 2020, but that is largely down to their misfortune in landing in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ alongside France, Germany and Hungary. Make it through to the last 16, though, and the Selecao’s credentials will have been proven.
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In terms of individual quality, it could be argued that only England and France will boast more talent than Portugal’s at this summer’s Euros. From front to back, Santos has options in every position. He also has a good blend of youth, experience and players in the prime of their careers.
If there is a weakness in this group of Portuguese players, it might be found in the centre of the pitch. While Fernandes will offer thrust and creativity in an attacking sense, William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira will be charged with providing protection and structure deeper in midfield.
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Of course, both players are experienced professionals, but they aren’t at the level of many of their teammates. Santos could opt for Ruben Neves or Joao Moutinho instead, but neither Wolves midfielder is in particularly good form right now. It’s possible Portugal could have a soft centre.
Santos has made himself a Portuguese football legend since taking over the Selecao in 2014. He led the country to their first ever major international honour at Euro 2016, beating host nation France in the final despite a first half injury to Ronaldo, and has made Portugal a permanent fixture at the top level of the sport.
Never before has Santos failed to get Portugal out of the group stage of a major tournament, but never before has his team been drawn in as strong a group as the one they will contest at Euro 2020. Some believe Santos should unleash Portugal as more of an attacking force, but his results over the last seven years speak for themselves.
Fernando Santos a kupával
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It’s impossible to look past Ronaldo as Portugal’s main man. The 36-year-old isn’t as mobile as he once was, he no longer boasts the pace to dribble past defenders at will, but the goalscoring nous remains - Ronaldo finished the 2020/21 season with 29 goals in just 33 Serie A appearances.
Of course, Portugal are stacked for world class options all over the pitch, from Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva in the attacking midfield roles to Ruben Dias in central defence to Joao Cancelo at full back, but the Selecao are built to get the best out of Ronaldo. If they are to keep their Euros crown this summer, Ronaldo will need to be in top form.
While Joao Felix has struggled to find his feet at Atletico Madrid since his €128m move to the Spanish capital two summers ago, the 21-year-old remains one of the brightest young talents in the Portugal squad.
The strength of the options around Felix (see Diogo Jota, for instance) means he’s not guaranteed to start every game for Portugal this summer, but Santos is more convinced of his quality than Diego Simeone. For Portugal, Felix tends to play in an Antoine Griezmann-esque role, filling the space around Ronaldo as the central striker. It’s a position that suits him well and gives him the freedom to drift.
While there were no real surprises in the 26-man squad announced by Santos for Euro 2020, Pedro Goncalves might be an unfamiliar name to non-Portuguese football fans. Well, at least those who don’t read the gossip column.
Goncalves has been linked with both Liverpool and Manchester United this summer having helped Sporting CP to their first Portuguese league title in 19 years. The 22-year-old won’t be a first team figure for Portugal this summer, but his record of 23 goals in 32 league games for Sporting CP this season hints at the goal threat he carries.
Pedro Gonçalves spielt für Sporting Lissabon
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Santos largely shifted between a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formation throughout qualifying. However, most recent evidence points to the Portugal boss favouring the latter as a way of getting as many attacking threats into his team with Ronaldo as the apex and two wide forwards around him.
Generally speaking, Santos has built his Portugal dynasty on a sound defensive basis, and there is still an element of that in his current team. However, Portugal have kept a clean sheet in just one of their last five matches. Santos appears more willing to focus on what his team can do to opponents rather than what opponents can do to them.
Group F will be an early test for Portugal, but they have the quality to come through and make the semi finals.
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