Euro 2016 Preview - Portugal: Can Ronaldo inspire the Portugese to an unlikely triumph?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo inspire Portugal to a Euro 2016 triumph or will the pressure be too much for the Selecao?

Euro 2016 Preview - Portugal: Can Ronaldo inspire the Portugese to an unlikely triumph?
Can Portugal claim their first European crown this summer in France / Vavel

Portugal come into the European Championship in France after a solid but albeit unconvincing qualifying campaign where they only managed 11 goals.

But with the likes of Spain, Germany, and France already being touted as potential favourites, don’t underestimate Fernando Santos’ men as they look to go one better than they did in Euro 2012.

With the team being a mix of youthful exuberance and wise old heads, the Portuguese could certainly be considered as dark horses even before a ball is kicked in anger.

Spain’s dominance having waved over the past years, and Germany seemingly susceptible to fast attacking sides, if Portugal can get the balance right at crucial moments there is no reason why they can’t lift the famous trophy at the Stade de France on July 10.

Portugal’s qualifying campaign was fairly understated

Santos’ men were given a fairly innocuous looking qualifying group with the likes of Denmark, Albania, Serbia, and Armenia all being opponents – but as mentioned they made hard work of the group, only managing 11 goals. Despite winning the group by seven points in the end the perception of Portugal being an attacking team with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in the ranks is dissipating.

Portugal's star man? | Photo: BeIn
Portugal's star man? | Photo: BeIn

The fact the Selecao only scored 11 goals is a worry, and should be a comfort to other teams; because if they can restrict the likes of Ronaldo, Nani, and Ricardo Quaresma they will have a chance of nicking something.

At the start of qualifying Albania proved that theory to be correct as a goal from Bekim Balaj gave the Albanian’s a great start to their campaign which ultimately culminated in them qualifying for the Euros along with their Portuguese counterparts.

Can Fernando Santos lead Portugal to Euro glory?

Santos could be described as a bit of a journeyman; he has held various positions in both club and international football, with moderate success.

His most successful period as a club manager was with Porto, when he guided them to five major trophies. He then went onto manage in Greece with AEK Athens, and PAOK. And then in 2010 he took the job as Greece’s head coach where he managed them in Euro 2012 and the World Cup in 2014.

The 61-year-old took over from Paulo Bento in 2014 after he was sacked and since then he has tried to implement his philosophy of flexible football. He tends to float between a formation of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 depending on personnel available.

The only problem Santos has at the moment is Portugal’s lack of a recognised centre-forward. He tried various over the course of qualifying, but it seems at the moment Eder, the Lille forward is his preferred option with Ronaldo normally supporting him.

Can Fernando Santos mastermind Portugal's Euro success? | Photo: SkySports
Can Fernando Santos mastermind Portugal's Euro success? | Photo: SkySports

But speaking about his plans for Euro 2016, Santos said: “We have a well defined strategy with no fixed players. We like mobility and we don’t have a specific formation, but I concede that it is probably closer to 4-4-2.”

It will be interesting to see what way Santos decides to utilise his attacking talents, but if he does decide to go with two up-top it looks as though Ronaldo and Eder will have the responsibility of providing the much needed goals for the Portuguese.

Strength and Weaknesses

Santos has already named his 23-man squad for the Euros, and with it includes the likes of Bayern Munich’s new signing Renato Sanches, Valencia’s talented midfielder Andre Gomes along with Portugal’s main man Ronaldo.

Despite not being the most free-scoring sides, Portugal will instead rely on their solid foundations which make them tough to play against; but with ball players such as Joao Moutinho and Gomes they still have the ability to be expansive but at the same time without losing that defensive solidity.

Utilising Ronaldo will be another intriguing area of Portugal’s European campaign this summer, the Real Madrid player will be coming into the tournament fresh off his third Champions League victory; he has proved for his club that he is a match winner, but in major international tournaments he has yet to set the world alight.

If Santos decides to be more attacking and employ a 4-3-3 style of play, it will again be the responsibility of Ronaldo to come up with the goods – something he has struggled to do in the big tournaments.

Sanches and Ronaldo could both be pivotal for the Selecao

If Portugal is to succeed in France this summer they might have to rely on the power of Ronaldo; for his club the man just continues to defy logic; scoring bundles of goals and at the same time inspiring Madrid to the dizzy heights of Undecima after Los Blancos' success over Atletico recently in the Champions League final.

But one thing that can be levelled Ronaldo’ way is that he hasn’t always bought that club form onto the national stage at the big tournaments.

There is no doubt having the class of the former-Manchester United forward in your side will only help, but for Portugal it is about time the three-time Champions League winner delivers of what is one of the grandest stages.

Over the years Portugal have always been famed for producing some top class midfield talent, the likes of Eusebio, Deco, and Luis Figo have all graced Portugal’s squad. But it’s been a long time since the natives have raved about an up and coming talent; but in the shape of Sanches it looks as though they might have found the next big thing.

The 18-year-old recently transferred from Benfica to German giants Bayern Munich in a fee that was an initial £28million but could rise to £63m.

Sanches only made his Benfica debut in December, and was courted by a whole host of top European clubs including Manchester United.

The wildcard, Renato Sanches | Photo: SkySports
The wildcard, Renato Sanches | Photo: SkySports

The Euros will be the place to be for seeing young midfield talent; Dele Alli of England has caused quite a stir in the Premier League, also Germany have Julian Weigl who has performed well in the Bundesliga. But if Sanches can produce the kind of performances he has been for Benfica before his big money, it will only aid Santos’ cause as he looks to take Portugal to Euro glory.

Group Opponents

On Paper Portugal’s group looks rather straightforward; but don’t be fooled: Iceland, Austria, and Hungary had a solid qualifying campaign and are there in France on merit.

Iceland have never qualified for a major tournament, and being one of the smallest nations with only 323,000 habitants it is a marvellous achievement from Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson in guiding the Nordic country to the Euros.

On the way to the Euros Iceland surprised everyone – they beat the Dutch, not once, but twice. And with players such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, and Birkir Bjarnason all playing rather well, the Icelandic nation will be hoping their side can spring a surprise.

The Austrians are another side which the Portuguese will have to be wary of; this European Championship will only be their second. In 2008 they co-hosted the tournament but fell at the group stages, but with a handful of upcoming stars such David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic, they should have a good chance of progressing from the group.

It is Hungary who makes up Group F, and it is their first major tournament since 1986, and their first European tournament since 1972, so it is a big deal for Hungarians.

Many believe Hungary will be the whipping boys of Group F. We will have to wait and see if that will indeed be the case, but with Balazs Dzudzsak they do have a winger with experience playing at European clubs. And then in goal they have the hugely experienced Gabor Kiraly, who was formerly of Crystal Palace.


Portugal's send-off didn't really go to plan as they lost 1-0 and got Bruno Alves sent-off as they failed to make an impression against Roy Hodgson's England. When Alves got sent-off midway through the first-half, it turned into a defensive training session of the Portuguese. But the plus point is that Santos' men escaped without any injuries and with the return of Ronaldo for the tournament, they can look ahead with optimism. 


14 June - Portugal v Iceland, Stade Geoffrey Guichard

18 June - Portugal v Austria, Parc des Princes

22 June - Hungary v Portugal, Stade de Lyon

Portugal Squad's:


Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Eduardo (Dinamo Zagreb)


Vierinha (Wolfsburg), Cedric (Southampton), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Carvalho (AS Monaco), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Jose Fonte (Southampton), Eliseu (Benfica), Raphael Guerreiro (Lorient)


William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon), Danilo Pereira (Porto), Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Joao Mario (Sporting Lisbon)


Rafa Silva (Braga), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Nani (Fenerbahce), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (Lille)