Next up in our look ahead to the World Cup in Russia this summer, it is the turn of European champions Portugal to rest under the spotlight. Having surprised many by winning the Euros in 2016 after a relatively sub-par tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo and company will be hoping they can build on their momentum and carry a great showing to the biggest tournament in football. Their 35 man preliminary squad features many stars who played in that title winning campaign two years ago, including Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Nani and goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Having won their previous major tournament, Fernando Santos’ men will have the expectations of a nation raised quite considerably this time around. Renato Sanches, however, misses out.
Being drawn in the same group as nearby rivals Spain perhaps isn’t an ideal scenario, but Portugal are in there as top seeds with Spain coming from the second pot. On paper, therefore, Portugal will be favourites to win the group – though with the other two nations in Group B being Morocco and Iran one would fancy them to advance at the very least as group runners up. The players in their preliminary squad have tended to have had great seasons domestically, and if that form can be transferred into this competition then the national side could be in for a happy summer indeed.
Qualification from Group B could lead to a tough second stage opener, with either the winners or runners-up of Group A lying in wait. Group A, of course, consists of the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay, and so whoever the opposition the Portuguese will need to be on top form to negotiate their path through to the last 16. A side with this much quality, however, certainly has more than enough ability to make it through as long as they remain professional and passionate enough to get the job done.
That passion was of course embodied in the shape of Ronaldo in that famous final two years ago when they beat France thanks to an extra-time goal from Eder, who up until now remains in the preliminary squad and seems likely to have a seat on the plane. Ronaldo went off injured fairly early on, but put his obvious disappointment aside to become their most famous cheerleader all the way through until the end. Ruben Neves could also be set for a spot after enjoying a cracking season in England’s second-flight, winning the title and helping to guide Wolves back to the Premier League. He missed out on the 2016 tournament despite having already been capped for Portugal, but the chances of him adding to the five he has already earned would have been done no harm with some of his displays this season.
Ultimately, Portugal weren’t a squad particularly fancied before their title win in France. However, since they won that one and enjoyed such a fine qualifying campaign – winning nine out of 10 games and winning Group B ahead of Switzerland – there will be many keen eyes set on their camp to see if they can emulate their heroics and add to their one and only major international honour to date. Well, apart from the 1995 SkyDome Cup of course!
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