Portugal manager Fernando Santos gave his customary pre-tournament sit down interview with Portuguese television station TVI, where he discussed among many topics, Portugal’s chance of winning EURO 2020, their opponents, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonçalo Guedes.
Santos discussed the differences from the 2016 squad, which won the title on a memorable night in Paris, and the current one. He also talked about how other nations now view Portugal differently, having finally won a major tournament.
I don’t think you could compare the squad from 2016 to this one. Since 2014, a lot has changed. Some players come in, some go out. It’s a natural evolution. We could compare with 2019, when we won the Nations League. That’s a competition comparable to the Euro.
There is a difference from 2016. The great powers of football used to look at Portugal as dangerous but they didn’t think we could win. That’s different than with Germany, they say: In football it is 11 versus 11 and in the end Germany wins. Our opponents had respect for Portugal but they didn’t believe we could win. Since 2016, they now look at us as contenders [candidates].
Stronger conviction? I think all my colleagues knew we were close. The big difference between 2016 and 2021, is that before, we weren’t champions. That helps because winning is a habit. The Nations League victory in 2019 was the consolidation of that.
These days players don’t expect to encounter something unexpected. But, there are nuances that we can’t understand. At the last World Cup, several players had won [in 2016] and were prepared. But others, felt the weight too much. They did not always show that in training but later it was clear. For me, the only obligation is to play to win. In 2018, there were players that thought it was a failure if they didn’t win. I hope they have overcome that.
Santos also spoke about their opponents in Group F which includes Germany, France and Hungary, warning that Portugal will need to be at their very best to advance.
For me, the squads are similar [Portugal, France and Germany]. I think there are 6-7 that are very close to the same level. We can’t say we are better than France, but France can’t say they are better. Germany is the same. They are all strong squads and we will have to be at our best. But, we need to know, Hungary is very dangerous and they are playing at home.
The match with Hungary is of great importance in a short competition where one result could change everything. In this group, there are three squads that could win the title. This Euro is different. There are 11 teams that will play at home and that will matter. Hungary will play two matches at home and Germany three. That obviously has its advantages. Hungary gave us plenty of trouble in 2016. They were really good, then faltered but are strong again. Their players are very tough. It will be difficult.
If we play like we are capable, we could win. With France and Germany, we are equals. Germany renewed their squad following the Confederations Cup in 2017, but then went back and recalled some players like Hummels and Muller. There are some things we need to look at. There are some questions [with Germany] we need to answer. They have a lot of talent. But, nothing scares me. I respect what they have.
Like always, he spoke with admiration about Portugal’s biggest star.
Ambition, strength, determination, humility and hard work. I think that defines him. He shows how to make your dreams come true. He knows that being idle won’t get you anywhere. At the age of 14-15, he crossed the road with weights attached to his legs, when the light was yellow, he would run as fast as the cars. I think that says it all about Cristiano Ronaldo.
Santos also discussed how the squad has evolved over his tenure and will need to continue to do so if Portugal are to be successful this summer.
In 2014, we started playing a 4x4x2 diamond. At that time, I thought it was the best way to get the most out of the players. After we got to the final in 2016, I knew I had different players. We changed a bit to 4x2x3x1. [Ronaldo] played inside with Nani, which freed him from defensive duties. Nani did a lot of work. I don’t think people know how strong tactically Nani was. Since then, we have changed things but the foundation is the same. Under me, Cristiano has never played on the left. If I put him there, he would have to come from behind the full-back. That’s not where I want him. I need to find a solution. At the World Cup, he played with André Silva or Guedes.
Gonçalo Guedes recently tested positive for COVID-19 and remains in isolation but Santos is optimistic the Valencia winger will be on the plane to EURO 2020.
I believe he will [be at Euro 2020]. Today [1 June] is the final day to submit the 26 player squad to UEFA for the Hungary match. But, we know that we could change up to 48 hours before, under certain conditions. But, I hope I don’t have to. Under Portuguese law, Gonçalo [Guedes] could start training as soon as 4 June. I don’t know if he will join then, because we’ll be in Spain that day. If he tests negative, he could start training right away.
All quotes translated by Rui Martins. Photo is from FPF.