Portugal will head into this summer’s European Championship as the defending champions, but they appear to have a Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum to solve ahead of the finals.
A Selecao claimed their first senior international men’s tournament at Euro 2016, overcoming a sluggish start (they did not win a game during the group stage) before going on to beat hosts France in the final.
Since then Portugal have added winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019 to their growing list of accolades and at
10/1 they appear to be one of the leading contenders to go all the way at this summer’s Euros.
Euro 2016-winning coach Fernando Santos remains the man in charge and he arguably has a more talented group of players to choose from now than he did ahead of the finals five years ago.
Since that triumph the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Dias and Joao Felix have come through the ranks, while Bernardo Silva, who missed Euro 2016 through injury, has also come to the fore.
However, the main man undoubtedly remains Juventus star Ronaldo, who is closing in on Ali Daei’s all-time international scoring record in men’s football, as he has netted 102 goals in 172 appearances for his country, leaving him just seven short of the Iranian’s tally.
There are no signs of the 36-year-old letting up on the scoring front, as he has netted 17 in 18 matches since returning from a nine-month break after the 2018 World Cup, but there is a growing belief that despite his goals, Portugal are a better team without their captain.
New Generation Could Steal the Limelight
The statistics do suggest Portugal may be a better team without Ronaldo, as they went unbeaten and topped their Nations League group in the forward’s absence after the World Cup, with the new generation thriving without the perhaps subconscious need to always pass to their talisman when he is on the pitch.
Portugal certainly should not be considered a one-man team, with Manchester United ace Fernandes, who has been directly involved in 36 goals for his club this season, justifying his own status as a world-class talent.
Dias, Silva, Felix and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota perhaps also fall into that category and the feeling is Portugal could go all the way with or without their captain in the team.
Tough Group Could Prove Costly
If the defending champions are to retain their title this summer then they may have to do it the hard way as they have been drawn in arguably the toughest group at the finals, coming up against world champions France, major tournament specialists Germany and a Hungary team that finished above them in their Euro 2016 group.
It certainly looks like being a daunting test for Portugal, who are priced at
9/2 to top the group, but Santos’ side are in good form, losing just two of their 26 matches since the 2018 World Cup.
An opening match against group outsiders Hungary could prove an advantage for Portugal, but only if they win the game and that will not be simple given the contest will take place in Budapest.
Portugal are priced at
4/6 to win their opener and that could ultimately prove enough to take them through to the knockout stages given four of the six sides that finish third in their group will make it into the last 16.
Santos’ side will then face another away match in their second group game against Germany in Munich before they return to Budapest for their final group contest with France, in what will be a repeat of the 2016 final.
Portugal Looking For Repeat Success
Portugal’s hopes of going deep at this summer’s finals could depend on where they finish in their group, as going through as one of the best third-placed sides is likely to hand them a much tougher route through the knockout stages.
However, tough is not impossible as Portugal proved in 2016, as they finished behind both Hungary and Iceland in their group before seeing off Croatia, Poland and Wales en route to the final.
A Selecao will be hoping for a much smoother and convincing passage through this summer and they are a team capable of beating anyone on their day.
It would certainly be no surprise to anyone if Ronaldo is the man lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft come July.
*All odds correct at time of writing.