Football Features

Portugal Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

By Chris Smith

Portugal Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

Published: 14:40, 26 June 2021

Portugal headed into this summer’s European Championship looking to defend their title from 2016.

The Selecao ended their long wait for a major international title by beating hosts France 1-0 in the final five years ago. That said, they do have an impressive record in this competition, never failing to reach the quarter-finals since the tournament’s restructuring in 1996, as well as reaching three semi-finals and two finals in that time.

Fernando Santos’ men followed up that triumph by winning the inaugural Uefa Nations League in 2019, quickly casting aside the disappointment of a round-of-16 exit at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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The best players Portugal will bring to Euro 2020

Rui Patricio

One of the few surviving members of that 2016 success, Rui Patricio was in inspired form as Portugal finally ended their international heartache, keeping four clean sheets in seven games and making 21 saves. Since then, he’s added the Nations League to his medal collection while also winning a Taça da Liga with Sporting CP, before moving to the Premier League with Wolves.

Since joining up with compatriot Nuno Espirito Santo, Patricio has been almost ever-present, missing just one Premier League game across his first two seasons alone. The 33-year-old has consistently ranked among the English top-flight’s top goalkeepers when it comes to saves and clean sheets, and he’ll be a formidable last line of defence for an already rock-solid backline that conceded just six goals in eight qualifying games.

Ruben Dias

“His ability is incredible, as is his understanding of the game,” Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said of Ruben Dias back in January. “He wants to learn and all of us were impressed by how he takes care of his body and mind, every day. We were surprised a lot.

“The day after [a game] – 8.30 in the morning in the gym. He makes his routine, he eats perfectly. He lives 24 hours for his profession. I can assure you that we signed one incredible player for the next five, six, seven years. That is not easy to find.”

Indeed, after a tough initial teething period, Dias has truly stepped up to the plate, leading an almost unbreakable Man City defence that swatted some of the Premier League’s best forwards aside en route to the title. So good was the partnership between Dias and John Stones, that even the mighty Aymeric Laporte struggled to get minutes on the pitch.

Partnering Pepe at the heart of the Portuguese defence, Dias brings supreme class in possession for his nation, while he’s also the one to come out and defend on the front foot, allowing the veteran Pepe to sit behind and mop up. It’s a partnership of young and old, speed and strength, style and solidity.

Bruno Fernandes

Of course, it’s not all about defending for Portugal, even if that is what has often carried them to victory since 2016. Further forward, the Selecao are blessed with some of the most dangerous midfielders and forwards on the planet right now, and they don’t come much better than Bruno Fernandes.

Sure, he’s only managed four goals and five  assists in 32 caps at senior international level so far, but he’s been right in the thick of the attacking action at club level since joining Manchester United in January 2020, just as he was in Portugal for Sporting CP. Fernandes is the central piece to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s jigsaw, effectively carrying the Red Devils to second at times.

Cristiano Ronaldo

We said they “don’t come much better” than Fernandes for a reason: Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks.

Even at 36 years old, Ronaldo is one of the most lethal forwards on the planet, rapidly approaching 100 goals for Juventus in less than three seasons since joining from Real Madrid, firing the Old Lady to back-to-back scudetti in the process. He might not be as mobile as he once was, but Ronaldo still has a deceptive turn of pace, while his physicality and ability in the air are almost unmatched.

Ronaldo has formed an extremely close bond with his national team manager over the years and Santos was quick to defend his captain when some suggested Portugal would actually be better off as a team without the 178-time international, who has scored a ridiculous record-tying 109 goals during that time.

Ronaldo has scored 26 goals in 47 caps for Portugal across European Championship, World Cup and Nations League play combined and even when he’s unable to have a direct influence on the game himself, he is front and centre, encouraging and demanding the very best from his teammates. The images of him acting as a second manager from the dugout during the Euro 2016 final have become iconic.

Father Time appears to be no match for Ronaldo right now but this must surely be his final Euros. What better way to sign off from the competition than by becoming only the second captain to retain it after former Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas?

Fernando Santos: The international grandmaster

Santos is quickly approaching 150 games as an international manager with Greece and Portugal and, thus far, he’s only lost 20 games across all competitions and friendlies. What’s more, his record in tournament play is quite remarkable:

Fernando Santos’ international major tournament record:

  • Euro 2012 (Greece): Quarter-finals
  • 2014 World Cup (Greece): Last 16
  • Euro 2016 (Portugal): Winner
  • 2018 World Cup: Last 16
  • 2019 Nations League: Winner

This runs in direct contrast to his managerial career at club level, where Santos managed just one Primeira Liga title with Porto and a scattering of cups in Portugal and Greece across 22 years. Some managers are just made for international football.

Portugal’s previous major tournament line-up

vs Uruguay (2018 World Cup round-of-16)

Although the likes of Patricio and Fonte remain, there will be a very different feel to Portugal this summer compared to the line-up we saw in their 2018 World Cup round-of-16 defeat to Uruguay. The likes of Adrien Silva and Joao Silva have fallen from prominence, with Danilo Pereira getting plenty of minutes with PSG to boost his midfield chances.

Then, of course, there is the emergence of Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix as world-class talents, meaning Goncalo Guedes is up against it when trying to retain his starting spot at another tournament.

Leicester City right-back Ricardo Pereira should travel, but injury issues and the excellent form of Joao Canacelo for Manchester City means he has slipped down the depth chart.

The tactics

Throughout qualifying for the Euros, Santos switched between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 systems, or close variants of the two. And at Euro 2020, he has opted for the one-match strike force.

Predictably, Ronaldo lines up as the central striker, flanked by Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva, whom he can bring into play by using his strength to hold up the ball while those two will also do most of the running for him when Portugal are pressing. Joao Felix can also be brought in to operate anywhere across the forward line, while Andre Silva is a more than adequate back-up after his excellent season with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Further back, Renato Sanches is the midfield maverick allowed the freedom to join the front three in attack, backed by pass master Joao Moutinho — another who brings immense experience to this squad — and Danilo Pereira, who is a goliath in the No.6 role, dominating defensive duels both on the ground and in the air.  Of course, there is still Fernandes on the bench ready to come in and make a difference despite his sluggish start.

And at the back, in front of Patricio, is that aforementioned partnership of Dias and Pepe flanked by Nelson Semedo and Raphael Guerreiro, with the former replacing the absent Joao Cancelo.

Portugal’s Euro 2020 odds

After reaching the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams, Portugal are priced at 14/1 by Sky Bet to win the tournament outright. While they may sound harsh on the defending champions, it has been influenced by their last-16 tie against Belgium and potential quarter-final with Italy should they get past the first big test. The draw has not been kind.