Euro 2020 preview, Group F – Portugal: Tom Kundert on defending champions
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Tom Kundert gives us his take on Portugal…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
Having reached the semi-finals or better in four of the last five European Championships, and boasting players excelling around Europe’s best clubs, holders Portugal go into the tournament with high hopes.
Captain Cristiano Ronaldo remains the team’s biggest threat, but long gone are the days when Portugal were CR7 plus ten others. The likes of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix and Diogo Jota lend the team an enviable array of goal threats.
With Pepe continuing to roll back the years and Premier League Player of the Season Ruben Dias at the heart of the defence, and supremely talented attacking full-backs on both flanks in the shape of Joao Cancelo and Raphael Guerreiro, the reigning champions appear well placed to defend their crown.
But Portugal will have to be on it from the very start, having been drawn into one of the toughest ever groups in the history of international football. The Portuguese begin against a vastly improved Hungary in Budapest, then lock horns against Germany in Munich. Should results go against them in these two “away” matches, Portugal will have to rectify matters against none other than world champions France.
Nobody knows how Group F will play out but boring it certainly will not be.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
Euro 2016 will forever be remembered fondly by Portuguese football fans as this soccer-mad country finally saw its national team lift a major trophy, but ask those same fans if the current squad is better and your answer will be a resounding “Sim”!
The offensive weapons available to coach Fernando Santos means a more offensive approach than that adopted in France five years ago is inevitable.
Footballers of the highest calibre in the attacking third make Portugal one of the most potent teams at the tournament – at least on paper. Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva putting their maverick creativity at the service of Ronaldo, Felix and Jota is a frightening thought for opposition teams.
And any weaknesses?
Pepe’s performances for Porto and Portugal this past year defy his age, but should the 38-year-old pick up any injury or suspension, the natural replacement is 37-year-old Jose Fonte. Full-backs Guerreiro and Cancelo are fantastic going forward, but neither can be described as reliable defenders at the highest level.
In contrast to Portugal’s attack, which boasts world-class players across the board, the suspicion remains that Portugal’s back four can be got at, and if this competition proves one tournament too many for the creaking bones of their ageing centre-backs, Santos may rue the risk taken by selecting just three central defenders.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
The greatest ever Portuguese player may not be quite the force he used to be, but 36 goals for Juventus in 2020-21 prove Cristiano Ronaldo is still an extraordinary performer, and he remains the first name on Fernando Santos’ team sheet.
Ronaldo’s list of collective and individual awards is ludicrously long, but the Madeira-born magician insists one piece of silverware means more than all the others: the European Championship trophy. It is no coincidence that Portugal’s greatest period in their football history dovetails with Ronaldo’s career. His unquenchable drive and ambition remain a huge boon to Portugal’s chances of experiencing more glory.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
During the recent Nations League campaign Diogo Jota twice deputised for Cristiano Ronaldo who missed the clashes against Croatia and Sweden through injury and Covid-19 respectively. On both occasions Jota produced man-of-the-match displays, scoring three goals and buzzing around with characteristic energy all game long.
His move to Liverpool initially raised concerns in Portugal about possible long periods of bench-warming, but Jota’s vibrant displays before and after his injury showed he was as viable an option as the famous front three of the Anfield club. Jota has been exceptional over the past 12 months for club and country and he could well cap it with a memorable Euro 2020.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
It is difficult not to be highly optimistic going into the tournament when considering the talent throughout the Portuguese squad and the winning mentality coach Fernando Santos has successfully inculcated since taking over in September 2014. In 56 competitive matches since, Portugal have lost just four.
Nevertheless, although Santos has been impeccable as regards making Portugal difficult to beat, his natural conservatism has – save rare exceptions – seen him struggle to harness the full potential of an incredible generation of offensive players at his disposal.
That, together with an overreliance on ageing defenders in Pepe and possibly Fonte, especially when considering the energy that will have to be expended to negotiate a daunting group stage, will prove Portugal’s downfall at the business end of the tournament. Beaten finalists.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
France to add the European crown to their world title. Mbappe top scorer.