With the Euro 2020 competition just over the horizon, let’s take a look at some of the participating squad’s chances, starting with the impressive Portugal.
Winners at the last Euros (2016), many are expecting a lot from Portugal this time round. Although perhaps not as strong as the likes of France or Belgium, there is so much to be excited for.
With an astounding 9 title-winning players this season (combination of Manchester City, Lille OSC, Sporting CP and, of course, the one from Atletico Madrid), they are surely set to have a successful campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Where better to start than the captain? And surely the best Portuguese player in history (sorry Eusébio!) I’m not sure Cristiano Ronaldo needs much of an introduction, or a detailed depiction. But there is one thing I’d very much like to clear up.
Twitter is a wonderful and horrible place. If you’ve been unlucky enough to have immersed yourself in the “Football Twitter” in these recent months, you would have assumed Cristiano had played a full season with no goal contributions, and an average rating of 5.0. Now, although Juventus fell short of the Serie A title, this has certainly not been the case with the nation’s most capped player. Ronaldo has scored an astonishing 35 goals in 43 games this campaign, bagging 20+ goals for his 12th season running- an utterly unbelievable feat.
Portugal’s all-time top goalscorer, Ronaldo will be pivotal to Os Navegadores chances for a second consecutive European Championship win this summer.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United):
Although the UEFA Europa League loss to Villareal last Thursday is likely still a fresh wound for Bruno Fernandes and his Manchester United team mates, he’ll certainly be looking to recreate his league form for his country. Topping the Red Devils for both goals (28) and assists (18) in all competitions this season, I can’t imagine many opposition defences will look forward to playing against him behind Cristiano Ronaldo!
Fernandes has only scored a measly two goals from 27 international caps so far, but, currently considered by many as the best number 10 in world football right now, it would be a wise bet to say that number will increase!
Rúben Dias (Manchester City)
It was a tough decision whether to include Rúben Dias or his Manchester City team mate João Cancelo (who has been sensational from a mix of left-back and right-back this season), but I opted for the former- no doubt with his performance vs PSG fresh in my mind.
Rúben Dias has been nothing short of sensational this year. Perfectly suited for Pep’s style of play, Dias is the best ball-playing centre half in the world. He ranks second top in his position for passes attempted per 90 in Europe (84.15) with a breathtaking 94% completion rate- only two other centre backs top that. Furthermore, he completes 6.44 progressive carries p90, exceeded exclusively by his teammate Aymeric Laporte alone.
There’s no surprise the SL Benfica graduate was named Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for his debut season in England, and even less of a shock that he makes my key players selection here.
José Fonte (Lille OSC)
How could I leave out the massively experienced and Ligue 1 title-winning José Fonte? He’s rolled back the years with the French underdogs this season, and certainly looks ready to imitate that on the international stage.
Captain and leader, Fonte holds the amazingly peculiar record of being the only player to win a major domestic trophy (Ligue 1 20/21), a major international tournament (Euro 2016), and the major… Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (with Southampton back in 2010).
Expected to be paired up with Rúben Dias (who is 13 years his junior), Portugal have a seemingly impenetrable centre back partnership for the upcoming summer.
Potential Break Out Stars
Nuno Mendes (Sporting CP)
Likely to be one of the youngest participants at the competition, Nuno Mendes has burst onto the scene this season- and in some style. He joined the Sporting CP youth ranks when he was only 9, gradually forcing his way into the starting XI. He has played 29 games for the Lisbon-based outfit this year, and even thrice for Portugal- all before he’s even turned 19.
Already linked with a £50 million+ move to the two big Manchester clubs, Nuno is an electric, explosive left-sided wing back. He operates in Sporting’s free-flowing 3-4-3 allowing him positional freedom- contributing to both the attack and defence.
A back line of Nuno Mendes, Rúben Dias, José Fonte, and João Cancelo is nothing short of mouth-watering.
Pedro Gonçalves (Sporting CP)
A teammate of Nuno’s, it’s not surprising to see two Sporting Club De Portugal players make this list after they sealed their first Portuguese title in 19 years- going back to before Nuno Mendes was even born!
The uncapped, diminutive number 10 has been highly rated for a while now, but, unlike Nuno, Gonçalves didn’t graduate from the famed Sporting academy. He spent five years at Braga back in 2010, before sealing a move to Valencia. He went on to spend two seasons in the Spaniards’ youth ranks until he was snatched up by Wolverhampton Wanderers, adding to their wealth of Portuguese talent. Failure to make a first team appearance, and a £1 million pound move to F.C. Famalicão- in which he recorded 5 goals and 5 assists in a single season- was enough for Sporting CP to take a chance.
Since moving to the Portuguese capital, he hasn’t looked back. An outstanding debut season for the Leões consisting of a title win and 26 goal contributions in 32 games (23 goals + 3 assists). Gonçalves has since been linked to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, and we all know how successful United’s last acquisition from Sporting turned out to be!
At the age of 22, I wholeheartedly predict Gonçalves to take this competition by storm, and perhaps even be one of the nation’s best players- whether he’s played out wide, or alongside/instead of Bruno down the middle.
André Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Finally, a piece where I can rave about André Silva (watch this space)!
Although the other two inclusions lean towards the younger side (especially in the former’s case), André Silva is 25- which is not old by any means, but quite a difference. I feel that many see “break out stars” as having to be young, untouched potential that burst onto the scene; like Lukas Podolski at the German World Cup (21y/o), or, more topically, Renato Sanches at Euro 2016 (18y/o). In my eyes, it is simply a player who not many rate, or have heard of, and isn’t at one of the biggest teams in Europe, but nonetheless has a wondrous tournament.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to André Silva saying he still has the potential to “break out”, even after his performances this season. The former AC Milan man has bagged 28 times in the Bundesliga this campaign, the most league goals for a single player in Eintracht Frankfurt’s history. Not bad for a man that cost less than £10 million.
André Silva’s story is an inspiring one. He set back the Rossoneris just under £35 million when he joined from FC Porto in 2017, only finding the back of the net twice in 27 Serie A outings. He went on loan to Sevilla the following year, where he scored a slightly more promising 9 goals- but certainly not the numbers either team had hoped he would hit.
This is Silva’s time to shine on the big stage and prove any remaining doubters that he has what it takes to fulfil his potential.
My Prediction For Portugal
Seemingly Portugal’s toughest challenge might just be to get out of their group. Group F really is the “group of death” this year consisting of France, Germany, Portugal and Hungary. If they get through that- which I anticipate they will in second place above Germany- then they will likely end up playing England. As an Englishman, I think I’m qualified enough to say we won’t be winning that!
After a probable drudging of the Three Lions, it’s possible that Spain will be waiting for them in the quarter finals. The last time these two nations met in a major international fixture was one of the most exciting 90 minutes I’ve ever witnessed- a group game in the 2018 World Cup which ended 3-3 thanks to a Ronaldo hat-trick and a beautifully struck free kick.
Spain have a strong squad, and will be looking to redeem themselves after their embarrassment at the hands of Russia 3 years ago. Sadly I believe this is where Portugal will come unstuck. Although, I certainly would not bet against them reaching the final.
In fact, excluding Portugal’s away defeat to Ukraine- an outfit I have down as potential dark horses this summer- and narrow loss to best-in-the-world France, the southwestern European side is unbeaten since the 2018 World Cup. 27 games; 17 wins, 8 draws, and 2 losses- that’s rather impressive.
Under former-defender turned managerial-journeyman Fernando Santos- who has also previously managed the “big three” in his native homeland (FC Porto, Sporting CP, and SL Benfica)- Portugal have the potential to go far this summer.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images