Evaluating the favourites to win the Euros to predict to consider whether they have a chance of going all the way: Portugal
The friendlies have finished; the wait is almost over: the Euros are just around the corner. European football fans are now envisioning the possibility that they will lift the cup in a month confirmed their nation as the best side in Europe. Greece winning Euro 2004 highlighted that any side can win the competition.
The 16th Euros is set to be an unusual one. The world is wrapped in the Covid crisis, limiting travel and attendances to games during a Europe-wide tournament which means that games are played across several nations before concluding at Wembley. The difficulties with Covid should not be disregarded. Football fans, who have been impacted the most due to covid, can have an impact. Two of the biggest examples include Wales’ impressive run in 2016 Euros and the impact of the Icelandic clap. Yet, despite these limitations, the tournament will still begin with expectations on each side in the competition. The Riverside Observer has analysed the 24 national sides in the competition to provide our readers with tournament predictions. To prevent our biases from getting in the way, we have excluded the home nations from the lists.
The teams listed here will not surprise any of our readers as they have been widely touted to be the sides expected to win the tournament. These sides have the best squads, a good balance, a manager, and a tactical system, to help them to the final stages of the tournament.
Nickname: A Seleçāo (The Selection)/ Os Navegadores (The Navigators)
FIFA Ranking: #7
Manager: Fernando Santos
One To Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo
Hot Prospect: Joao Feliz
Portugal is one of the favourites thanks to its recent track record in international football. The side won both the 2016 Euros and the 2019 Nations League showing that they have the "winning mentality" a frequently discussed feature of the best sides in football. Meanwhile, they have one of the two best footballers in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the side into the Euros. This will give them a notable edge over other sides in the competition.
Fernando Santos has a few solid options between the sticks. Rui Patricio will be the favourite to wear gloves at the start of the season. While Patricio’s Wolves have struggled to find the form of previous seasons this year, the 33-year-old Portuguese goalkeeper has managed to end the season with his reputation relatively intact. He has a wealth of experience to pick up on during the tournament. He will be a commanding presence in the box, and his leadership may prove to play an important role in national teams success this summer. Alternatively, Santos could prefer Anthony Lopes for the gloves. The 30-year-old was a near-constant in goal for Olympic Lyon last season as the club finished in 4th place. Finally, Santos chose Rui Silva to play a part in his 26-man squad. The 27-year-old played for Granada last season, who struggled for form towards the end of the season with some concerning results: a 4-1 defeat to Real Madrid and a 4-2 defeat to Deportivo Alaves. This poor form Rui Silva is a resolutely third-choice goalkeeper. His position in the squad is further cemented by the side conceding some 65 goals last season, the worst of any side in the top half of La Liga.
The Seleção will field an experienced defensive line too. Pepe, the 38-year-old captain, is still playing football and still a part of the Portuguese set-up, joining the 26-man squad from FC Porto where he played 27 times this season. José Fonte, former Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham United centre back, has been called up at the experienced age of 37, following a 36 game season with Lille, Ligue 1 winners. The final centre back option available to Portugal comes in Ruben Dias. The 24-year-old made 32 appearances for Manchester City this season, playing a vital role in their Champions League campaign that saw them finish runners up and in the club winning the Premier League. Dias has also garnered a lot of praise from pundits who have watched Manchester City this year. He may be less experienced than the other two options but he will most likely pair up with José Fonte at the start of the tournament. Santos’ preferred back four is completed with several highly respected fullbacks. Manchester City’s Joao Cancello (now replaced by Diogo Dalot) and Borussia Dortmund’s Raphaël Guerreiro are both most likely to start for Portugal with Wolverhampton Wanderers Nélson Semedo is back up. While the starting defence is very strong, there is a lack of in-depth in these areas. In fullback and centre-back, Portugal has just one player as cover. A concern for Portuguese fans as a few injuries could result in a notably weaker side. While Santos prefers a 4-3-3 starting formation he only allows one of the fullbacks to push forward. This player adds width to the attack while the other fullback tucks alongside the centre-backs to form back three. This allows more attacking impetus from midfield without being left to open defensively.
Fernando Santos lines his side up with one screening midfielder, usually Danilo Pereira, one of the best ball-winning midfielders in European football. This gives license for other players to push further up the pitch, in essence making a 4 man defensive block when in possession and attacking the opposition. Alternatively, William Carvalho can also play this role, allowing Santos to rotate the position if he needs to do so. Portugal then plays an asymmetrical midfield pair. One sits as a deeper sitting passer of the ball, either Wolves’ Joao Moutinho or Ruben Neves, FC Porto’s Sergio Olivera, Ligue 1 winner Renato Sanche or Sporting CP’s Joao Palhinha. This plethora of options in this role shows the sides strength in depth. Though a few of these can play in the more advanced midfield role should they be needed. However, this position is predominantly Bruno Fernandes’ as the individual instructions see the player push beyond midfield to get involved in attacking areas to create opportunities for himself and others. Bruno Fernandes is a contender for Premier League player of the season with his 18 goals and 12 assists. There is no doubt that he has been very impressive this season. The 26-year-old will be one of the sides key players for this tournament.
The wide forwards in Santos’ 4-3-3 fluctuate in width depending on which fullback plays a progressive role. The wide forward on that side tucking in while the set defensive fullback’s side would lack width without the wide forward providing an option near the touchline. This is one of the most intricate of the positions in the team and Santos will rely on Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota in these areas. The talent of these two forwards is certainly not in question and it will provide a constant threat to most sides in the tournament that needs to be dealt with by their opponents. Portugal is not lacking in depth in these areas as Santos has Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes and Athletico Madrid’s Joao Felix that can play in these positions.
Finally, Santos has one of the best players in the history of football to pick up front in Cristiano Ronaldo. The 36-year-old Juventus forward will start in the centre. His physicality is an issue that most sides will have to deal with. He will interchange with the left wide forward to pick up the ball in these areas and offer a different dynamic to break down the defensive line. Santos can also choose between Eintracht Frankfurt’s André Silva and Joao Félix if he needs an alternative to lead the line for any reason. The former, André Silva has had nothing short of a phenomenal season in Germany, scoring 28 goals in 32 games, and so expect him to feature from the bench if not from the start.
Portugal is a very strong side other than a lack of depth in some areas of the pitch, it's hard to locate a chink in the Portuguese armour. Yet Kristof Terreur in "Daily Euros: BBC Football Daily" revealed a possible chink in the armour and, ironically, it comes in the shape of their talisman: Christiano Ronaldo. There is no doubt about the wealth of experience and talent that the number 7 brings to the Portuguese side, as his 5 Ballon d’Or’s lone highlight. He only gets involved in the sides build up in the final third with his well-reported talents and strengths that causes the side to be more predictable and easier to deal with. While, the Navegadores’ alternative striker, André Silva has been in better form this season and has positioned himself as one of the in-form strikers coming into the tournament. André Silva also plays a bigger role in the sides overall play. So the sides build-up attacking routes become less predictable. Simply, Portugal looks more dangerous and more complete with André Silva leading the line. Cristiano Ronaldo’s well-earned reputation within the game and all the additional effects that this has on the team as a whole means that Fernando Santos is unlikely to make the call to drop the player. This means that the player cannot be used from the bench, to keep him fit and firing to use his outstanding abilities to devastating effect.
Portugal should comfortably move into the semi-finals. Their advancement from that point onwards will depend on how Christiano Ronaldo is used and whether they can keep their defensive talents fit throughout the tournament.
Daily Euros: BBC Football Daily