Seleções de Portugal
Portugal go in to the tournament ranked No8 in the world and ranked No4 amongst the European teams but do not appear to be given a chance against the tournament favourites; Spain, Germany and France. Yet Fernando Santos has assembled a squad that looks young, determined and capable of going a long way. Poland and Croatia have been dubbed the dark horses and I would add this young Portuguese team to that list. Every two years the nation garners all hope and expectation upon the talented and charismatic: Cristiano Ronaldo. Since the departure of Luis Figo and Rui Costa, arguably two of the greatest Portuguese players to grace the game both retired after the European Championship in 2004 where they were defeated by Greece in the final. That is the closest the Seleção have come to winning an international tournament and have since become increasingly reliant upon Ronaldo.
Fernando Santos has shifted from ex-Portugal coach Paulo Bento’s 4-3-3 to his variation of the 4-4-2/4-3-1-2 formation to most effectively deploy Cristiano Ronaldo. This new system requires Santos’s midfielders to be extremely durable and intelligent. Being the main reference point, the talismanic number 7 will be excused from any defensive responsibility where he will be allowed roam free across the front line thus making the midfield’s role more important having to defend in both wide and narrow areas. This should allow Ronaldo the freedom to move in to the channels and late runs into the box.
After watching the game against Iceland, I will be keen to see who Santos picks for the game against Austria but this should be his preferred starting eleven: Rui Patricio remains Portugal’s number one ahead of Anthony Lopes and Eduardo. In defence, Ricardo Carvalho is their most experienced defender and starts ahead of Bruno Alves after his poor performance at Wembley prior to the tournament alongside champions league winner Pepe. Vierinha and Raphaël Guerreiro put in assured performances even though Vierinha was at fault for Iceland’s equaliser. Rounding out the squad are Cedric, Jose Fonte and Eliseu who are more than capable backups.
The 4 across midfield are the most important positions in this Portuguese team. João Mário is expected to continue in his right midfield role after recycling possession and providing a presence in both boxes. He plays in a similar system at club level for Sporting along with squad member Adrien Silva. Danilo anchored the midfield and protected his back four, rarely ventured forward keeping his discipline making him the key component between defence and attack. The standout performer and key player was Andre Gomes who started on the left side of the midfield three and excelled against Iceland. His movement and passing was telling with 5 key passes and passing accuracy of 84.9%. The build-up and final pass was impressive and his interchange with the Portuguese forwards was decisive. Ronaldo is assured of a starting position with Nani and Quaresma vying for the second striker position.
The Seleção have an excellent opportunity to go a very long way in the tournament especially with the other favorites not up to scratch yet. After many years this is a Portuguese squad that I feel has the talent and ability to progress and perform without solely relying on Cristiano Ronaldo. A quarter final finish would represent a fair result this year but I would not rule them out to progress even further.
In addition we have the best [players] in the world, we are talking about many others who are in the elite of world football and to represent the great clubs in the world. We must not be afraid to take in knowing that many other teams will have the same ambition as us. It’s not an easy championship, as ever, but Portugal has its cards to play.
Rui Costa on Portugal’s Chances at Euro 2016- (http://desporto.sapo.pt)
Rising Talents To Watch
Rúben Neves and Renato Sanches are two of the most promising players to come out of Portugal since Cristiano Ronaldo. Sanches recently sealed a £36m transfer to Bayern Munich this summer and also became the youngest player to play at the European championships. He’s a forward thinking box-to-box midfielder with a range of passing and excellent technique. Primarily plays in a 4-4-2 system at Benfica, Sanches possess the perfect attributes to become a defensive lynchpin and an attacking force. At his best, Renato Sanches forces the issue with a driving run or inch perfect pass but he is still a raw talent with his decision making and passing inconsistent but that is expected from an 18-year old. Working with one of the best box-to-box midfielders; Arturo Vidal and pass masters: Philip Lahm and Xabi Alonso, along with coaching from Carlo Ancelotti, Renato Sanches can develop into one of the world’s best central midfielders.
Ruben Neves has cemented his place in Porto’s starting eleven and captained the side at 19. As well as his influential leadership skills, Neves is an ever present defensive midfielder blessed with excellent vision and positional sense. He has been likened to Bacelona’s Sergio Busquets. Called into Porto’s senior squad just after his 17th birthday, then-manager Julen Lopetegui shocked many fans by then going a full leap further naming the youth player in his team for the opening league game of the season. Neves responded in outstanding fashion, scoring after just 11 minutes and earning the man-of-the-match award. He has been in and around the first team ever since.