Chris Williams –
Portugal will make their debut appearance at this year’s FIFA’s Confederations Cup after they broke French hearts in Paris last year to win the European Championships. A Equipa das Quinas beating their hosts in their back yard to lift their first ever major international trophy. The sweet taste of victory had eluded a nation with a rich footballing history for far too long—losing to Greece in 2004 on their soil was potentially one of the biggest Euro Championship shocks in recent history. A nation that had born stars of the world game such as Eusébio, Luis Figo and Pauleta looked to its latest creation, Cristiano Ronaldo to lead them to glory last year, the current world player of the year duly obliged. The fact Portugal won the trophy without the help of their talisman in the final — substituted through injury midway through the first half — makes their accomplishment all the better.
In their run up to this competition, the Portuguese recently overturned a weak Cyprus side 4:0 during a friendly as well as defeating Latvia 0:3 away from home last Friday (9 June). Their only slight squad worry during those recent fixtures was whether winger Ricardo Quaresma would be fit enough to face Latvia. The 33-year-old was introduced as a second-half substitute, head coach Fernando Santos will have been relieved to have seen one his most experienced players return to action—especially as within four minutes the Besiktas player had laid on an assist for Ronaldo to claim his second of the night.
Santos has named a adamant squad to participate in Russia, and the Portuguese will undoubtedly be favourites for the competition. Their main rivals, Germany, have named a youthful squad which should leave the prospect of glory very much in the hands of the current European Champions. Loaded with current champions from their respective clubs, the players assembled by Santos will give a solid spine, flanked by creative flair. Pepe and Ronaldo bring their experience of La Liga glory as well as recent UEFA Champions League success. Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho will bring the experience of winning Ligue 1 with AS Monaco while Raphaël Guerreiro brings a flair to midfield which propelled Borussia Dortmund to their DFB Pokal victory.
A traditional 4-4-2 mixed with a double six has been the mainstay of the Portuguese system for some time—however, Santos is unafraid to experiment with a 4-3-3 should the situation dictate. Twice he has trialled a diamond system, but with both occasions resulting in draws, it would unlikely he tested this system out while in Russia. The three attackers allow for a rapid assault on goal, should Santos opt for this it is possible Cristiano Ronaldo would find himself bordered by Sporting star Gelson Martins and AS Monaco’s Bernardo Silva – a frightening prospect for any defence. Should the more favoured 4-4-2 be put into action expect to see Ronaldo start as the striker with Nani, or either of the Silva’s, as his strike partner,
Portugal – Opponents
The European Champions will kick off their Confederations Cup campaign against Mexico in Kazan on Saturday 18 June; this should be their biggest challenge of the group – just how will they deal with the pace of the Mexican attack? Their next test comes against hosts Russia in Moscow on Wednesday 21 June. Portugal may have hoped for a lighter test after the Mexicans but no such luck, they will face the host nation and their passionate supporters in match two in what is sure to be a war of attrition in midfield. The final group game comes against the Kiwis in St Petersburg on 24 June, providing A Equipa das Quinas have performed before this, it could be a chance to rest some of the bigger names for youth to be given a chance.
Portugal – What to Expect
A mixture of recent success mixed with last year’s success in France will propel the Portuguese into the realms of “anything less than finalists” as a disappointment. Housed in the strong Group A, they will face a resolute Russian side as well as the fluid Latin style of the attractive Mexicans. Their balance of old and young will give them an ability to temper youth with experience, a crucial element for any potential tournament champion. Having shown they can fight on the world stage the once nearly men have turned themselves into champions. With it comes a chance to turn their last 12 months into something exceptionally unique—Russia could be the location where the current European Champions announce their intent to capture the World Cup this time next year.
Portugal – Squad
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting), Beto (Sporting), Jose Sa (Porto)
Defenders: Nelson Semedo (Benfica), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Pepe (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Cagliari), Luis Neto (Zenit), Jose Fonte (Southampton), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Eliseu (Benfica)
Midfielders: William Carvalho (Sporting), Danilo (Porto), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Pizzi (Benfica), Andre Gomes (Barcelona), Adrien Silva (Sporting), Bernardo Silva (Monaco)
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Gelson Martins (Sporting), Andre Silva (Porto), Nani (Valencia)
Chris Williams is a freelance European football journalist. Covering the Bundesliga, Premier League and both of UEFA’s European club competitions, he can be found somewhere between the Kop and Yellow Wall. Published in both local and international publications, such as the Liverpool Echo and Sport Bild, he also contributes to television and radio across the United Kingdom. A member of the UK’s Sports Journalist Association and the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) he lives and breathes football. Follow Chris Williams on Twitter @Chris78Williams