The Navigators’ success hugely depends on not only Cristiano Ronaldo but their ageing defence as well.
When Eder picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and swung his boot at it with an air of desperation, a nation that has been starved of international success erupted into cries of elation. Portugal had won the Euros, their talisman from Madeira finally had an international trophy to his name. Two years down the line, the Portuguese look a vastly changed side to the one that played the Euro 2016 final against France.
The head coach Fernando Santos has shown that he isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions by dropping former Manchester United winger Nani for the World Cup. Apart from this, the manager has addressed several of the problem areas of his team, by adding youth and energy while also retaining the experienced spine of the squad.
Portugal finished top of their qualifying group, tied on points with Switzerland, with AC Milan striker, Andre Silva emerging as one of their top performers, along with the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo. Santos’ men were drawn in Group B of the World Cup, along with Spain, Iran and Morocco and kick-off their campaign on the 15th of June, against Spain.
Portugal are expected to put up an amazing campaign in Russia
This match could prove to be Portugal’s chance to lay down a marker for the rest of their tournament as well as to stake a claim for the top spot in the group. The Portuguese team that won Euro 2016, failed to do it with the greatest of ease. They faltered in the group stage, going through as the best losers and relied on penalties and narrow wins to carry them to the title.
This time though, they look like a team that exemplifies balance and that will look to exploit the brilliance of Ronaldo to get them over the line. Rui Patricio will likely feature as Portugal’s #1 for the tournament, providing them with a commanding voice to man the defence. The team can also boast a midfield that is almost the perfect blend of youth and experience with the class of Joao Moutinho complimenting the destructive grit of the powerful William Carvalho.
Further up the pitch, Portugal will look to the likes of Manchester City ace Bernado Silva to give them the creative edge that will undoubtedly prove to be a very valuable asset. Andre Silva and Ronaldo will be the main source of goals, with the latter coming off his fifth Champions League triumph.
The exclusion of Bayern Munich loanee and one of the stars of the Euro victory, Renato Sanches came as a surprise to a few, with the midfielder flopping during his loan spell at Swansea City. Ricardo Quaresma will look to put his dazzling skills on show in what will probably be his last shot at World Cup glory.
Portugal’s first key battle will be against a star-studded Spanish side who are being widely touted as one of the tournament’s favourites. If Santos’ side can topple their group rivals, it would put them in a position of considerable power to go on and win the group, as they will target the games against Iran and Morocco as potential chances to unleash their considerable attacking prowess.
Ronaldo and Co have had a mixed bag of recent results, with losses to Sweden and the Netherlands and an unprecedented draw against Tunisia, tarnishing convincing victories against Egypt and Cyprus. However, several of the players chosen by Santos, are coming in just off the back of stellar domestic seasons.
A potential problem area for Portugal could be in defence. Both first-choice central defenders in Pepe and Jose Fonte are ageing and have been playing out of Europe’s top leagues. Pepe now plies his trade at Turkish club Beşiktaş, while Fonte traded the pace of the Premier League for the riches that come with the Chinese Super League. Opposition forwards will fancy their chances against the veterans.
Portugal have consistently produced some of the greatest talents the world has ever seen, from Luis Figo to Ronaldo, but have somehow failed to deliver on the biggest stage of them all. This new generation of Portuguese players, led by the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Ronaldo will look to carry on their winning form from the Euros into Russia and firmly establish themselves as one of the world’s footballing powerhouses.