Portugal saw a change of manager during the course of their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign as Paulo Bento made way for Fernando Santos after they lost to lowly Albania. Under their new manager seven successive wins saw them through to the tournament proper as group winners ahead second-placed Albania and Denmark, who came in third, but lost their playoff clash to Sweden.
The Portuguese lost only once in their eight qualifying fixtures to easily book their ticket to France and have also been placed in one of the easier groups at the summer tournament. They will compete against Hungary, Iceland and Austria for qualification to the knockout stages of the tournament and will be expected to top the group.
Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the side, but it will be crucial for Santos to provide his star man with the right players and the right set-up to get the best out of him. 27-year-old Rui Patricio will be entrusted with the goalkeeping duties, while Fenerbahce’s Bruno Alves, Real Madrid’s long-serving Pepe and Southampton duo Cedric Soares and Jose Fonte are the players likely to vie for defending spots in the first team.
Midfield is one of the best areas for Portugal with the likes of Porto’s Andre Andre, Ruben Neves, Danilo Pereira, William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Atletico Madrid’s Tiago, Beskitas’ Ricardo Quaresma, and Bernado Silva amongst others to call upon.
The main problem area for Portugal is the centre-forward position, where the lack of a decent option has forced Santos to deploy Ronaldo up front or shoo-in Zenit Saint Petersburg midfielder Danny up top.
Being placed in a relatively easy group – only Iceland and Austria to some extent can be expected to trouble the Portuguese a little – means that Portugal can easily qualify for the quarter-finals without putting in much effort. But they will face a real uphill battle last eight onwards, where teams like Spain, Italy, Germany and France will be eager to exploit chinks in Portugal’s armour.
All in all, Portugal look a safe bet for the quarter-final, but their prospects do not look much better after that.