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.
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.
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.
‘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
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.