Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
On the face of it, Portugal should be a name in the mix when it comes to contenders in Russia this summer. They head in to the tournament as European champions, while they’re armed with the Ballon d’Or winner from the last two years. In addition, they impressed at the Confederations Cup 12 months ago, only losing out on penalties in the semis of that tournament. Can they be considered as potential champions?
The bookies certainly don’t see it happening, with Portugal sitting around the 25/1 mark. That leaves them behind seven nations, including an England side who haven’t won a tournament knockout match since 2006. You can get half the price on international underachievers Belgium, a team who are following Portugal’s footsteps in the early 2000s and wasting a golden generation.
Of course, Portugal are seen as Ronaldo and 10 others. While he takes top billing, the Real Madrid superstar is an awkward middle-man on the international stage. He has transformed from the crying teenager among a group of aging legends during Euro 2004, becoming the legend leading a new golden generation. Can they help him win the World Cup in his final run at the tournament?
Manager – Fernando Santos
Rui PATRICO (Sporting)
Anthony LOPES (Lyon)
Vitorino ANTUNES (Getafe)
Bruno ALVES (Rangers)
Joao CANCELO (Inter Milan)
Jose FONTE (Dalian Yifang)
Mario RUI (Napoli)
Luis NETO (Fenerbahce)
Nelson SEMEDO (Barcelona)
Raphael GURREIRO (Dortmund)
Ricardo PEREIRA (Porto)
RUBEN DIAS (Benfica)
Cedric SOARES (Southampton)
Adrien SILVA (Leicester)
Andre GOMES (Barcelona)
Bruno FERNANDES (Sporting)
William CARVALHO (Sporting)
Joao MARIO (West Ham)
Joao MOUTINHO (Monaco)
Manuel FERNANDES (Lokomotiv Moscow)
Ruben NEVES (Wolves)
Sergio OLIVEIRA (Porto)
Andre SILVA (AC Milan)
Bernardo SILVA (Man City)
Cristiano RONALDO (Real Madrid)
EDER (Lokomotiv Moscow)
Gelson MARTINS (Sporting)
Goncalo GUEDES (Valencia)
Ricardo QUARESMA (Besiktas)
Rony LOPES (Monaco)
While 35 players have been put in their preliminary squad, Santos says he already knows his 23-man group for the summer. With a strong backbone from their Euro 2016 success, he only really needs to add a few up and coming talents to the side in order to improve them. This side are certainly functional defensively, but their newcomers could add some flair; either from the bench or as new blood in the starting 11.
There is a lot of experience throughout this squad, and that could make the difference for them this summer. On the face of it, the defence is Portugal’s biggest worry; with new options in midfield and attack. However, that comes despite claims that they defended their way to European glory in France.
Goalkeeper Rui Patrico kept clean sheets in the semi-final and final of the Euros, while he conceded just three times in five Confederations Cup matches in 2017. From their choices this summer, he’ll be protected by a familiar defence. However, the addition of fresh talent in attacking positions suggests that Portugal are stronger than two years ago, giving them an excellent platform for a strong World Cup.
Also, Portugal are one of our picks in our World Cup 2018 Outright Predictions.
Star Player – Cristiano Ronaldo
Obviously Ronaldo is still the main man for Portugal, fresh from one of his most impressive seasons with Real Madrid. He’s reinvented himself in to a lethal poacher, although that left him little side-lined in the defensive-minded Portugal side two years ago. He’s still the biggest goal threat for the side, after racking up 15 strikes during the qualifying campaign. While Andre Silva has emerged as a potential successor to him in attack, his poor season with AC Milan means the scoring burden remains on Ronaldo for the time being. However, he’ll need to up his game at this tournament, having scored just three goals across his three World Cup appearances.
One to Watch – Bruno Fernandes
One man who could help ease the pressure on Ronaldo is Sporting player Bruno Fernandes, who has had an impressive debut year at Sporting. He moved back to his native country last summer after a spell in Serie A with Sampdoria and Udinese. Since, the midfielder has been a key presence domestically and in Europe this term.
His impressive displays came in a Sporting side which slumped to third place in the league, but he’s being held up as one of the Primeira Liga’s finest players. After hitting 16 goals across all competitions this season, he’s earned comparisons with Rui Costa, which Sporting clearly believe in given that he has a huge €100million release clause. In a Portugal side who remain solid yet unspectacular in attack, the midfielder could well pitch in with vital strikes if given the opportunity.
Check out some of the other potential breakout stars this summer in Russia.
Portugal are likely to line-up in a 4-4-2 formation, which they used throughout the European Championships two years ago. Since the Euros, they’ve added to that by finding a genuine number nine to start alongside Ronaldo; who was partnered by Nani during most games in France. While Silva hasn’t made a huge impact in Serie A this season, his link up with Ronaldo has been lethal on the international stage, as the pair hit 24 goals between them in qualifying.
The question for Portugal is around the approach Santos will take, as he is a manager known to protect his favourites. Will he stick with his trusted lieutenants this summer? Will the aging Joao Moutinho stay in the side on reputation, or will the highly promising Bruno Fernandes be allowed a chance to impress?
Santos does seem to be moving away from picking on reputation, although he’s likely to stick with experience in central defence, where Jose Fonte (34), Pepe (35) and Bruno Alves (36) are the main contenders to start this summer. They’ll be flanked by Southampton’s Cedric Soares and Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Gurreiro, with William Carvalho likely to screen in front.
Man City’s Bernardo Silva is among the new crop of Portuguese talent, and he has done enough to earn a spot in midfield, supplying the forward line of Silva and Ronaldo. Finally, they should be joined by Joao Mario; a favourite of Santos who has managed to secure some game-time in recent months after a loan switch to West Ham. After that, they’ll have a strong mix of talent and experience on the bench as they look for more success this summer.
Potential line-up (4-4-2)
Rui Patrico; Cedric Soares, Pepe, Jose Fonte? Raphael Gurreiro, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, William Carvalho, Joao Mario; Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva
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