EURO 2020 PREVIEW: Portugal

Despite having won the last edition, and boasting an impressive talent pool, Portugal will not go into Euro 2020 as one of the favourites. But, that is a position that has always suited the small nation. Last time, A Seleção went into the tournament in a similar position and came out victorious.

This year’s tournament, coming five years after the previous one, with a pandemic in between, will be hosted in 11 cities across 11 countries in Europe. Portugal are in the so-called Group of Death with traditional heavyweights Germany and France, as well as well-coached, and tough Hungary side.

11 out of 26 players on this squad were on the squad that beat France on a memorable night in Paris. They still have their indominable captain in Cristiano Ronaldo. At 36, he still remains a force to be reckoned with. Decline or not, he still led Serie A with 29 goals this past season. Pepe, João Moutinho, Renato Sanches, Raphael Guerreiro, José Fonte, William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira, who all played major roles in the victory, also return.

In attack, Portugal are also stacked with plenty young, emerging talents who will be counted on to carry the torch forward. André Silva was second in scoring in the Bundesliga this season with 28 goals. Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes scored 18 goals in the Premier League and was second in assists. Not to mention, Bernardo Silva who missed out five years ago due to an injury.

Rui Patrício will once again be in goal. Santos will have several good options to pick from in the middle. At the back is where there is some concern. Santos decided to call only three centre-backs and age is a concern, with Pepe and Fonte now into their late 30s. However, both are coming off good seasons.

Schedule

Portugal were drawn into Group F, with the likes of world champions France, also Germany and Hungary. Germany’s recent results have many people doubting the squad, with defeats to Spain and North Macedonia. Still, the last World Cup aside, Germany always seems to show up for tournaments. This will be Joachim Löw’s final tournament, who has coached the squad since July 2006. Hungary beat Bulgaria in a playoff to complete the group. And, they are not to be taken lightly either.

Formation

Portugal has typically played a 4x4x2 under Fernando Santos, with full-backs and wingers overlapping one another. Pepe-Dias are expected to form the foundation of the backline. In the middle, is anybody’s guess. Santos has always liked to mix things up according to the match and situation. Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes are expected to play major roles. They will be key to Portugal’s success. Cristiano Ronaldo and Diogo Jota should play up front together with André Silva, Guedes and João Félix battling it out for playing time.

Players to Watch

Rúben Dias: The Manchester City defender is coming off an almost perfect debut season in the Premier League where he helped his side to the league title. Big, strong and blessed with natural leadership capabilities, Dias will need to be at his best if Portugal are to go far.

Diogo Jota: Another Premier League player who is coming off an excellent first season with his club. Jota seemed to be scoring for fun at times, with the highlight being a hat-trick against Atalanta in the Champions League. He has also had a fast start with the national team and is the odds-on favourite to partner Ronaldo up front.

João Félix: The 21-year-old is yet to really justify his big money move to Atletico Madrid two summers ago, but EURO 2020 is as good a stage as any to prove his critics wrong. He played only a peripheral role in his club’s La Liga-winning season, while battling some injuries that limited him.

Diogo Jota in his familiar pose

Manager

‘O Engenheiro,’ nicknamed for his training as an engineer following the end of his playing career. The 66-year-old Santos was hired in 2014 and engineered the Euro 2016 victory, as well as the inaugural Nations League in 2019. A somewhat lackluster end to qualifying for this tournament, and start to qualifying for Qatar 2022, had some fans doubting whether he should still be the man. Can he once again take a talented group of individuals and make them into a winning team?

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. They now look at us as contenders.

Fernando Santos

Squad

Fernando Santos chose the maximum 26 players for the tournament. Pedro Gonçalves was the only outfield player selected not capped at senior level. He led the Portuguese league in scoring with 23 goals. Nine players won league titles with their clubs this past season. There are 11 returning players from the championship-winning side from 2016.

Article written by Rui Martins. Graphics created by Rui Martins. Photos are from FPF.

Quotes from Fernando Santos’ interview with TVI

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.

UEFA EURO 2020 match schedule

EURO 2020 – Group stage schedule (all kick off times ET)

Friday, June 11

3pm: Italy v. Turkey

Saturday, June 12

9am: Switzerland v. Wales

12pm: Finland v. Denmark

3pm: Russia v. Belgium

Sunday, June 13

9am: Croatia v. England

12pm: North Macedonia v. Austria

3pm: Ukraine v. Netherlands

Monday, June 14

9am: Czech Republic v. Scotland

12pm: Slovakia v. Poland

3pm: Sweden v. Spain

Tuesday, June 15

12pm: Portugal v. Hungary

3pm: Germany v. France

Wednesday, June 16

9am: Russia v. Finland

12pm: Wales v. Turkey

3pm: Switzerland v. Italy

Thursday, June 17

9am: North Macedonia v. Ukraine

12pm: Belgium v. Denmark

3pm: Austria v. Netherlands

Friday, June 18

9am: Slovakia v. Sweden

12pm: Czech Republic v. Croatia

3pm: Scotland v. England

Saturday, June 19

9am: France v. Hungary

12pm: Germany v. Portugal

3pm: Poland v. Spain

Sunday, June 20

12pm: Wales v. Italy

12pm: Turkey v. Switzerland

Monday, June 21

12pm: Netherlands v. North Macedonia

12pm: Austria v. Ukraine

3pm: Belgium v. Finland

3pm: Denmark v. Russia

Tuesday, June 22

3pm: Scotland v. Croatia

3pm: England v. Czech Republic

Wednesday, June 23

12pm: Spain v. Slovakia

12pm: Poland v. Sweden

3pm: Hungary v. Germany

3pm: France v. Portugal

Round of 16

Saturday, June 26

Match 37: Winner Group A v Runner up Group C

Match 38: Runner up Group A v Runner up Group B

Sunday, June 27

Match 39: Winner Group B v 3rd Group A/D/E/F

Match 40: Winner Group C v 3rd Group D/E/F

Monday, June 28

Match 41: Winner Group F v 3rd Group A/B/C

Match 42: Runner up Group D v Runner up Group E

Tuesday, June 29

Match 43: Winner Group E v 3rd Group A/B/C/D

Match 44: Winner Group D v Runner up Group F

Quarterfinals

Friday, July 2

Match 45: Winner match 41 v Winner match 42

Match 46: Winner match 39 v Winner match 37

Saturday, July 3

Match 47: Winner match 40 v Winner match 38

Match 48: Winner match 43 v Winner match 44

Semifinals

Tuesday, July 6

Match 49: Winner match 46 v Winner match 45

Wednesday, July 7

Match 50: Winner match 48 v Winner match 47

Final

Sunday, July 11

Match 51: Winner match 49 v Winner match 50

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