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Euro 2020: Can Portugal Retain Their Title?

As club competitions across the continent come to a close in the next few weeks, players and fans are eagerly waiting for the much-delayed Euro 2020 Championship tournament in the summer. Portugal are the defending champions, and head into the tournament as one of the favourites to win the title. The Selecao have an impressive record in the tournament, never failing to reach the quarter-finals since 1996.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will be eager to take the field against Hungary on June 15 to kickstart their title defence. Here’s our guide to the Portuguese football team, and its chances in the tournament:

FERNANDO SANTOS AT THE HELM

Since he was appointed the manager of Seleção in 2014, Fernando Santos has earned his fame as Portugal’s most successful coach. When the former Greece coach was appointed to lead the Portuguese, there was far from a consensus within the football community. But the veteran manager slowly but surely won over his critics, with an impressive 44 wins in his stint with Seleção so far. The fact that Santos lost just 20-odd games as a manager at the international level speaks volumes about his abilities to lead a team.

The 66-year-old has led his team to Portugal’s first-ever international title in the previous edition of the Euro championships and then adding to the trophy cabinet with a Nations League title in 2019. With two titles in three years, Fernando Santos has been hailed as the harbinger of the Golden Generation for Portuguese football.

TOP PLAYERS

Portugal are a team that are brimming with talent, making Fernando Santos’ job much difficult to pick the right line-up.

Captaining the side and leading the attack is Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best footballers of all time. Ronaldo’s fans worried that the shift to Juventus might take away some of his mettle, but Ronaldo has put all such doubts to rest with incredible performances, both for Juventus and Portugal. Ronaldo has scored a whopping 103 goals for the Seleção, the highest for any European player.

Ronaldo is joined by the likes of Diogo Jota, Andre Silva and Bruno Fernandes in the attack, all of whom are in phenomenal form for their clubs. Diogo Jota has been crucial for Portugal in their victory against Luxembourg and has been involved in eight goals for the Seleção this season. Bruno Fernandes has picked up two yellow cards in the group A qualifiers, missing their game against Luxembourg. But the Manchester United midfielder has mellowed a little in recent weeks, and Santos will hope he recuperates by the time the tournament begins.

At the back, Ruben Dias and Jose Fonte lead an impenetrable defence that can hold back some of the best-attacking lineups in the world. Their combination of speed and strength, together with Dias’ ability to push the ball back into the midfield makes Seleção’s defences very strong. Rui Patricio is Portugal’s go-to stopper for years, with the Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper inching closer to a record 100 appearances for the team. With a solid performance in the Premier League, Patricio will be instrumental to hold back France and Germany in the group stages.

Other notable players include Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva while Wolves trio Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Pedro Neto are also part of the squad. But Neto sustained a knee injury on Monday, and his availability for the tournament remains to be seen.

FORM CHECK FOR THE TEAM

Portugal head into the Euros with a string of impressive performances behind their back. They crushed Azerbaijan (1-0) and Luxembourg (3-1) and were denied a victory against Serbia (2-2) due to a wrong call from the referee. But their road to the Euros has been shaky – the Selecao were eliminated from the 2021-22 Nations League, finishing second behind France in group B. Their qualification journey was not up to expectations, they looked uncomfortable against Ukraine and Serbia, their closest rivals.

LIKELY TACTICS

For more than two decades, it seems Portugal have been set up to excel in the current era of one striker and false nines. But Portugal’s attacking lineup has strengthened in recent years. Fernando Santos has experimented with various lineups in the past but has settled on the 4-3-3 system that allows Ronaldo to maximise his goal-scoring opportunities.  

Atlético Madrid’s João Félix, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo play in attack for Portugal in a fluid front three who frequently switch positions with one another and the central midfield duo of Fernandes and Moutinho who, in turn, would advance into Portugal’s forward line at times in the game.

At the back, Dias and Fonte are joined by Cancelo and Guerriero at the sides, both of whom are adept at pushing the ball into the midfield. Portugal frequently shift to a 4-1-4-1 formation when they are out of possession, allowing them to regain possession quickly.

WILL SELECAO RETAIN THE TITLE?

Fernando Santos’ men are certainly one of the favourites heading into the tournament. A capable manager, a strong team with enough bench strength and the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo all point to a strong performance in the group stages. But Portugal are in the group of death – along with France and Germany. They have to be at the best of their ability and use astute tactics to overcome the odds and progress to the knock-out rounds.

 

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