While the country has produced two players who could arguably be in the discussion as the greatest of all time, Portuguese teams have enjoyed relatively little success in Europe’s top flight. In the Champions League era, Porto registered a solitary success at the end of the 2003/04 season.
Prior to the formation of the UCL, Porto won the European Cup in 1987. The great 1960s Benfica also won that competition, in 1961 and 1962. It’s not a great return, but can there be a fifth trophy in 2023?
Teams in contention
The good news is that two Portuguese teams have progressed to the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League. Those two familiar names, Porto and Benfica, are in contention after making it out of the groups.
There isn’t, however, too much support among the neutrals. The current Champions League betting markets list Manchester City as the favourites for the trophy, followed by Bayern Munich, PSG and Liverpool. Meanwhile, the two Portuguese teams are down among the outside picks.
It should be remembered that Porto, under José Mourinho, were among the underdogs in 2004. The current teams may not be as strong as that side and are probably in need of some quality from the past.
When we’re talking about great Portuguese players of the Champions League era, there’s only one place to start. Cristiano Ronaldo has not only broken a host of national records, he’s also set milestones in the Champions League that may never be matched.
As we head into 2023, Ronaldo heads the current list of Champions League goal scorers with 140 goals from 183 games. While it’s a shame that CR7 didn’t contribute with his first club, Lisbon-based Sporting Clube de Portugal, those 140 strikes have come via spells with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
The records don’t end there and Cristiano Ronaldo has set a whole host of benchmarks in the UCL. He’s also made the most appearances in this competition to date, and he holds the record for most winner’s medals with five.
The majority of Ronaldo’s records relate to goal scoring. He has found the net more times than anyone else in a season, thanks to his return of 17 goals in 2013/14. CR7 has also scored the most goals in the knockout stages. He’s the only player to score in three finals while his streak of goals in 11 straight UCL matches is another unique achievement.
In short, while Portuguese teams don’t have the best record in this competition, the country has produced the greatest Champions League player of all time.
Ronaldo’s greatest predecessor
While he didn’t play in the Champions League era, it would be unfair to complete this round up without mentioning the great Eusébio. The former Portuguese international still holds Benfica’s all-time scoring record with an incredible return of 473 goals in 440 games.
Eusébio played in the previous incarnation of the UCL - the European Cup - and he earned a winner’s medal in 1962. If we take both competitions into account, he remains high on the list of leading scorers with 46 goals in 65 games.
He was the Cristiano Ronaldo of his day and it’s fair to say that Eusébio made his mark on Europe’s most elite competition.
Portugal’s first, and so far only success in the UCL came in 2003/04 when José Mourinho guided his Porto team to the final. Within the playing squad, the star man was Deco. The midfielder headed the list of assists in that season with six as he played a pivotal role.
Ironically, his performances in 2004 led to a big money move to Barcelona in the summer of that year. Deco went on to win the Champions League with Barca, thereby becoming one of just a few men to claim the UCL while at two different clubs.
Tight at the back
Defenders and goalkeepers have an equally important role to play in the Champions League. We’ve looked at the best forward men, but who has kept things tight for the teams at the back?
It’s certainly worth mentioning Vítor Baía. When he won the Champions League with Porto in 2004, he became only the second goalkeeper to win all three of Europe’s major club competitions.
Experienced defender Fernando Couto never won the Champions League, but he returned solid statistics in Europe’s elite competition. He played in two spells for Porto, but Couto enjoyed more success with Parma and Barcelona, winning three European trophies.
While there have been some exceptional defenders, the best contributions to Europe’s elite competition have come from the forwards. Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly the most prolific, but he’s not the only elite attacking Portuguese player to have graced the competition.