Ronaldo’s threat to Bruno’s creativity: Assessing Portugal’s Euro 2020 challenge
Defending UEFA Euro 2016 champions Portugal do not come to Euro 2020 as underdogs, as was the case last time. A Seleção has come a long way in terms of talents, since the night when an injured Cristiano Ronaldo famously led the side to a title win from the side-lines against hosts France.
Though Portugal could not replicate their European success in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where they were eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16, the team has since seen talents like Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias perform exceptionally at the biggest of stages.
However, Portugal’s exciting squad is given an equally difficult challenge after being placed in the group of death alongside France, Germany and Hungary in the Euro 2020.
Portugal squad for Euro 2020
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes, Rui Patricio, Rui Silva
Defenders: Joao Cancelo, Nelson Semedo, Jose Fonte, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Nuno Mendes, Raphael Guerreiro
Midfielders: Danilo Pereira, Joao Palhinha, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Moutinho, Renato Sanches, Sergio Oliveira, William Carvalho
Forwards: Pedro Goncalves, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, Goncalo Guedes, Joao Felix, Rafa Silva
SWOT Analysis of Portugal Euro 2020 squad
While Cristiano Ronaldo leading the attack will gain the most attention, one cannot deny that Portugal come to Euro 2020 with one of the best defensive line-ups. In the likes of Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Pepe and Jose Fonte, the Portuguese have the perfect blend of experience and youth at the back that is capable of keeping their chances alive against stronger opponents till the very last minute.
After conceding four goals each in the 2016 Euros as well as the 2018 FIFA World Cup, manager Fernando Santos has worked immensely on improving his backline with his team conceding four goals in the entire 2020. Though Santos recently persisted with the central defensive duo of Fonte and Pepe against Spain, the very reliable Ruben Dias - who won the Premier League with Manchester City last season - is expected to take his position during the tournament.
Quite ironically, Portugal’s weakest link at the Euros this season will be their goalkeepers. Rui Patricio and Anthony Lopes - the first-choice custodians for Portugal - have both had a forgettable season with their respective clubs.
While Lopes conceded 44 goals in 39 matches for Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon last season, Patricio has let in a whopping 51 goals in 37 matches while keeping for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Hence, despite having a sturdy backline ahead of them to provide the much-needed cushion for the out-of-form goalkeepers, Santos will be worried about letting in loose goals throughout the tournament.
The tale of Portugal's emerging talents is quite akin to that of France, given that it has all the qualities to challenge for the title. However, what stands out is Portugal's midfield that is flocked with generational talents who could defend and create with equal precision.
While Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes will hog all the limelight, young Renato Sanches - who was voted the European Golden Boy in 2016 - has recently won the Ligue 1 with LOSC Lille and finally looks like the player that was once promised.
Anchor-men Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho are no longer the under-rated midfielders with the Premier League bringing out their unique tenacity to the fore. This holistic midfield is likely to give Portugal the perfect opportunity to go up against the strongest of contenders in the Euros.
Without a doubt, Cristiano Ronaldo remains the biggest threat for any opponent. The 36-year-old has scored an astonishing 103 goals in 173 games for Portugal and will be the biggest weapon for Santos.
With Joao Felix and Diogo Jota providing the dynamism from the wings, Ronaldo – who has grown into the towering centre forward role of late – will have the task of scoring goals. His precision and ability in the air have proved to be unparalleled attributes over the last decades.
Ronaldo had scored three goals and two assists in Euro 2016 and ended the 2018 World Cup as the joint second-highest goal-scorer alongside Antoine Griezmann. With Euro 2020 likely to be Portuguese superstar’s last UEFA European Championship, he would want to end it with a bang.
Written by: Subhayan Dutta
Featured Image: AFP/ John Thys