Champions at Euro 2016 and the 2019 Nations League, Portugal is a team used to winning and they are eyeing up a hat-trick of trophies in Qatar.
This is a squad packed with talent and household names, who will be looking to redeem themselves following painful exits at both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020. Those were two games Portugal arguably dominated and were unlucky to lose, when you look at the statistics from the two knockout games they lost.
Despite having some strong sides over the years, Portugal has never lifted the World Cup. Their best tournament to date came in 1966 as they finished third and boss Fernando Santos knows just how important it would be, telling the media: ‘I have one trophy left to win… the best is yet to come.’
The Manager: Fernando Santos
Fernando Santos has been in charge of Portugal for over eight years and has enjoyed great success but the 68-year-old has come under pressure after the last two major tournaments and a tough qualifying campaign for this World Cup. If his side suffer an early exit in Qatar, it could be the last time we see him at the helm.
Prior to taking the job, Santos managed some of the biggest clubs in Portugal and Greece including Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica as well as AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK. He won the Portuguese top-flight title and two domestic cups with Porto and the Greek Cup with AEK Athens.
Santos also spent four years managing the Greece national team from 2010 to 2014. He has won numerous awards including Super League Greece Manager of the Decade while in 2016 he was named European Coach of the Year. In the same year he was also nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach.
Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal has a handful of star players now, but until the day he retires, Cristiano Ronaldo will always be the biggest name in the team. At the age of 37, this is almost certainly his last World Cup and last chance to win the one trophy which has eluded him throughout his illustrious career, if he can shake off his illness.
Ronaldo has been embroiled in controversy in the last few days for his interview with Piers Morgan, in which he hit out at Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, the club’s young players and owners as well as former team-mates. Bruno Fernandes has responded, insisting Portugal are focused on the World Cup.
So did boss Fernando Santos, but make no mistake over the timing of that interview, Ronaldo is desperate to leave Old Trafford in January and any club interested in signing him – including Bayern Munich and Sporting Lisbon, who are both linked – will be glued to television screens as they weigh up making an offer.
Ronaldo will know that and it will provide an extra incentive for him to do well with Portugal in Qatar. In a team with world-class creative stars such as Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, and away from the drama at United, expect Ronaldo to shine on the world stage and add to his incredible 117 goals across 191 caps.
Young Player to Watch: Vitinha
You all remember Vitinha from his spell at Wolves in the Premier League, right? Well, probably not. He played 19 top-flight games in the 2020-21 season during his time on loan from Porto, but was mostly uninspiring, and the midlands club even decided not to exercise his €20m (£17.5m) buy option.
But Wolves made the wrong decision. The 22-year-old midfielder went back to Porto, established himself as an important player and helped them win a league and cup double the following season.
That saw him earn a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer where he has continued to impress and has seen Thierry Henry compare him to legendary Barcelona midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xaxi.
Vitinha is known for his creativity, dribbling skills and ball control who can operate as a central attacking midfielder but also in a deep-seated playmaking role – and surrounded by the quality of Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Neves – he could really push on and make a name for himself in Qatar.
Portugal will set up with Fernando Santos’ favoured 4-3-3 formation, though they are known to change shape during games in which they take the lead so that they can counter-attack instead.
This has led to some labelling Portugal as a Jekyll and Hyde team, who are more than capable of playing attractive attacking football but are also notorious for retreating in fear of conceding and making defensive errors.
How they’ll line up:
Like England, Portugal have somewhat of a goalkeeping dilemma and must pick between the more experienced Rui Patricio or the younger, and probably better, Diogo Costa. Patricio started the 4-0 friendly victory over Nigeria on Thursday, but Costa is more likely to get the nod for their World Cup opener on November 24.
There are some familiar faces in Portugal’s back four, with Manchester City duo Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias to link up with veteran Pepe and Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro.
Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes and Wolves’ Ruben Neves will line up in midfield alongside William Carvalho while the front three will likely consist of City star Bernardo Silva, Chelsea transfer target Rafael Leao and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal find themselves in Group H with Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. Realistically, it is a group they should be winning with the squad they have and will be crucial if they want to make a deep run at this year’s tournament.
Winning Group H would see them face Serbia or Switzerland, who they would likely beat, but finishing as runners-up could see them take on favourites Brazil.
Uruguay will be a big test for Portugal but assuming Fernando Santos’ side top the group and then get past Serbia or Switzerland, they will likely be rewarded with a quarter-final tie against Belgium.
That would be a close-fought battle but with Belgium likely to face a harder last-16 clash against Germany, and with their aging squad, Portugal may just about squeeze into the semi-finals, but that is as far as we can see them getting.
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