After a long and arduous wait for a major international trophy, Fernando Santos’ Portugal finally took the European Championship title back home after beating France 1–0 at Euro 2016, meaning they are the holders going into this summer’s tournament.
That being said, Portugal are behind a fair few in the pecking order at 8/1 to win Euro 2020 — understandable, given that Spain (2008 and 2012) are the only country to have retained the European Championship since its insurrection in 1960.
That being said, however, the Selecao have a respected recent history in previous European Championships, since the restructuring of the tournament in 1996, reaching two finals, three semi-finals and never falling short before the quarter-finals.
In part 6 of our Euro 2020 preview series we’ll take a look into the current holders, delve through some key players and assess their likely formation and playing style, before finishing, as per, with some key odds for Santos’ men.
Euro 2020 Qualifying: DDWWWLWW
Despite being the top seeded team in Group B, Portugal somewhat stumbled through qualification to the finals, winning five out of their eight games and finishing second, three points behind Ukraine and a relatively uncomfortable three points above Serbia — in fact, against their two closest competitors, they only managed five points from a possible 12.
More generally, Portugal are in good form. They finished second in their Nations League group behind France, and went on to win the inaugural tournament, beating the Netherlands 1–0 in the final in June of last year. More recently, Santos’ side have lost just once since September 2020 — a 1–0 loss to France.
This has to be caveated, however, with one eye on their group: The Group of Death. To progress into the knockout stages, Portugal will have to eliminate one of Germany and France, with all three giants in the group alongside Hungary.
Through much of Santos’ tenure with Portugal he has switched between a 4–3–3 and a 4–2–2–2 setup. After settling with a 4–3–3 during the Nations League triumph, however, Portugal look to have found their optimum formation.
The back five are potentially the most stable unit in this side. The vastly experienced keeper, Rui Patricio, will have a technically brilliant back four of Raphael Guerreiro, Ruben Dias, Jose Fonte and Joao Cancelo in front of him — three of this back four, Guerreiro excluded, won their respective leagues this year (Dias and Cancelo with Man City, Fonte with Lille).
With myriad options in midfield, Santos will contrive to find balance. PSG’s Danilo Pereira will hold the fort whilst the likes of Joao Moutinho and the outstanding Bruno Fernandes dictate and create further forward.
For a front three, there aren’t many — if any — sides with as much to choose from as Portugal. The talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to lead the line and provide the star quality — that is not to say, however, that those around him lack as such. Two of Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva, Diogo Jota, Daniel Podence, Pedro Neto or Rafael Leao will provide further world-class talent whilst also taking on the bulk of the running duties to compensate for their main man.
What’s more is that Portugal’s main playing style is incredibly malleable. Whilst a highly-technical defence and midfield can dominate the ball and work possession, the likes of Ronaldo, Felix, Leao etc. can be devastating on the counter attack, whilst the centre-back duo of Dias and Fonte can be equally outstanding as ‘traditional’ centre-backs. Furthermore, Guerreiro and Cancelo can both morph into attacking wing-backs or (as seen specifically with Cancelo) a quasi-central midfield playmaker.
With what is an incredible wealth of riches throughout the side, Santos’ main predicament will be keeping a glut of world-class stars happy whilst not guaranteed the playing time. If group morale can stay high, there’s no telling how far this lot could go.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Even at a mere 36-years young, Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo is banging in goals for fun. He was Serie A’s top-scorer in the season just gone with an astonishing 29 goals from 33 games, and has hit 101 goals in just 133 appearances since joining The Old Lady in 2018.
For Portugal the numbers are just as good: 173 caps, 103 goals. 44 caps across major tournaments (Euros, World Cup and Nations League), 21 goals. He was joint second top scorer during qualification with 11 goals (behind Harry Kane and level with Israel’s Eran Zahavi).
Further to his exploits on the pitch, Ronaldo’s experience and relentless pursuit of glory has seen his almost seconded as Santos’ on-the-pitch assistant manager, regularly pulling his team mates up a level and barking orders from his role up-top.
It’s players like Ronaldo that win these tournaments, not only for how good they are, but for how good they make everyone else.
Ruben Dias: With the embarrassing riches up top, it’s easy to forget the importance of a solid defence, especially in major tournaments. Portugal will be going into the finals, however, with arguably the best central defender in the tournament, and only 24-years old.
In an incredible debut season in the Premier League, in which comparisons have been made in terms of impact to Virgil Van Dijk’s move to Liverpool, Ruben Dias has led a near impenetrable Man City side to Premier League domination consisting of 19 clean sheets and a 21-game win streak in all competitions.
The most compelling aspect of the former Benfica player is his seamless transition from elegant, ball-playing, modern centre-back to rock-hard, no-nonsense traditional stopper. A man who takes equal pride in — and can perform with equal quality — a painstaking block and a 60-yard cross-field pass.
A true Goliath, Dias has the potential to lead this team to glory from the back. He will pair beautifully with the experienced Jose Fonte in a back-line that will take some beating.
Despite being the holders, and holding one of the best squads in the tournament, Portugal are currently 8/1 to win Euro 2020 — most likely due to the rarity of retaining the title and the difficulty of their group. They are also 4/1 to reach the final, and even as high as 7/2 to win their group.
In terms of top-scorers, Ronaldo is the obvious Portuguese favourite at 12/1, whilst you’d have to gown to 33/1 to find Joao Felix and 40/1 to find Andre Silva.
Portugal are 8/15 to get off on the front-foot and beat Hungary in their opener.
Portugal are in Group F with France, Germany and Hungary.
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