Strength in depth gives champions strong claims
EURO 2020 GROUP F
IT seems bizarre that when Portugal won their first major trophy at Euro 2016, they did so with arguably one of their less glamorous squads since the turn of the millennium. They failed to win any of their group matches at Euro 2016, managed only one victory inside 90 minutes during the knockout stage, and boss Fernando Santos built his side’s success around pragmatism and a sturdy rearguard. But as the reigning European champions and winners of the inaugural Nations League two years ago, much is expected of Portugal in 2021. Veteran Cristiano Ronaldo, now 36, is fresh from finishing as the top scorer in Serie A with 29 goals for Juventus and will feature in a record fifth European Championship this summer. Behind him Portugal can boast one of the most exciting combinations of midfielders in the competition with Premier League stars Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and Diogo Jota all pushing for starting spots alongside €126 million Atletico forward Joao Felix. And at the other end of the field centre-back Ruben Dias is fresh from an outstanding first season at Manchester City and is likely to be partnered at the heart of defence by veterans Pepe or Jose Fonte. That strength in depth should serve them well in the tournament’s toughest group, although the logistics of having to play in Budapest, then Munich and then Budapest again are far from ideal. Qualifying was not as straightforward as it should have been and they will not defend their Nations League title after failing to make the finals. But this is a much stronger squad than the one who went all the way in France in 2016 and Portugal have every chance of becoming only the second side to win successive European Championship titles.