Portugal came into the European Championship finals as heavy favourites to win the tournament and retain their title. Placed in the Group of Death with France, Germany, and Hungary, Ronaldo and co. got off to a good start beating Hungary 3-0 in their first game. In their second game, however, the defending Champions were blitzed apart by the Germans at Munich. The 4-2 defeat at the hands of the former World Cup Champions has thrown the group wide open and everything will be on the wire when they take on France on Thursday (12:30 am kick-off).
So, for a squad brimming with talent and led by one of the best players on the planet himself, Cristiano Ronaldo, what has gone wrong for Portugal in the defence of their Euro title?
A Misfiring Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes has arguably been one of the best midfielders on the planet ever since his move from Sporting CP to Manchester United in January 2020. On the back of another impressive season with the Red Devils where he scored 28 goals and assisted a further 17 in 58 appearances, he was tipped by many to be Portugal’s main man ahead of Ronaldo himself for the tournament. However, with no goal involvements or any telling contributions in the first two group games, it has been a frustrating campaign for the talismanic midfielder so far. Whether Portugal progresses from the group stage will be hugely dependent on Fernandes hitting the kind of form he has shown in club football.
A non-working Double Pivot
Fernando Santos started the last two games with a defensive midfield pair of William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira. The double-pivot helped Portugal dominate the game against a weaker Hungary side where they boasted 70% possession in their 3-0 win. This tactic, however, backfired against a much stronger German team. While Danilo and Carvalho are both excellent midfielders with good ball retention capabilities, against a faster and a more expansive German side, the duo struggled with their defensive duties of protecting their wingbacks. As such, Gosens and Kimmich were afforded all the space and time down their respective flanks resulting in the Die Mannschaft running riot against the champions in Munich.
It doesn’t get any easier for Portugal who now faces a much stronger and faster French team in their last group game. Given the nature of their opponents, Fernando Santos should be looking at the likes of Renato Sanches and Ruben Neves to occupy the space behind Fernandes in midfield if they are to get anything from the game against the blues.
A Team that needs to step up
Ronaldo has carried the Portuguese team over the best part of the last decade. While many expected that to change this summer with the squad depth Portugal boasted, the storyline has remained the same. He has been involved in four (3G 1A) of the five goals Portugal have scored so far in the tournament. And for a team that boasts the likes of Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Dias and many more global superstars, their contribution simply hasn’t been good enough. The team as a whole need to step up against France if they are to have any hopes of progressing from the group stages let alone dream of retaining their title.
Permutation for Portugal: Portugal will qualify for the knockouts by beating France, or with a draw coupled with a Hungary win. Top spot is possible with a victory providing Germany fail to win. Meanwhile, Portugal could crash out in fourth place if they lose to France and Hungary also beat Germany.