Cristiano Ronaldo has plenty of experience lifting trophies, but it was a special moment when he lifted silverware again after winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League. When Portugal beat the Netherlands in the final at the Estádio do Dragão earlier this month, the captain got to taste victory on home soil to finally banish memories of the shock defeat against Greece in the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon.
While it wasn’t the World Cup or the European Championship, all of Europe’s nations took part in the tournament to reach the four-team finals, and the fact the Seleção came out on top reinforces the message that Portugal are a force to be reckoned with as they look to defend their Euro crown.
Portugal are the defending European Champions after their historic Euro 2016 victory in Paris, but hopes of them holding onto the prize appeared to be taking a downturn as several iffy performances early this year resulted in the odds of them winning Euro 2020 widening significantly. With the tournament proper kicking off a year from now, Portugal have the potential to be a formidable opponent and will be keen to make the most of their momentum gained from the Nations League triumph. There are some highly enticing betting offers in favour of them winning, so how are they likely to fare?
The Nations League has given Portugal a boost
Bernardo Silva in particular performed brilliantly in the Final Four stage of the Nations League, along with other highly encouraging displays from emerging players such as Nelson Semedo, Bruno Fernandes and Rúben Dias, who all appear to be ready to boost Portugal’s chances of defending their continental crown in 2020. Perhaps just as important, the victory has helped foster a winning habit. Twice in three years UEFA have held tournaments in which every national football team in Europe took part, and on both occasions Portugal proved to be the strongest of them all.
But with their qualification campaign for the next European Championship finals off to a slow start, there are a few considerations to make. While no-one is suggesting the team will miss out on qualifying altogether, having drawn against Ukraine and Serbia at home, Portugal will need to push themselves hard to make sure they overtake at least one of these two countries if they want to avoid relying on a playoff to book their place at next summer’s football festival.
Moreover, Ronaldo will be another year older. Some continue to argue that Portugal have been a one-man team, and the talismanic captain’s magnificent display and hat-trick against Switzerland in the semi-final – almost exactly a year after a similar super-human effort against Spain at World Cup 2018 – does little to change this idea. While Ronaldo is a long way off retirement, it’s worth wondering how long he can continue to be such a dominant force on the pitch. Despite the aforementioned emergence of exciting talent for the Seleção, the team still highly revolves around him, and a significant drop in his output could massively impact how well they perform.
What’s next for Portugal going forward?
The younger talent in the team showcased their potential in the Nations League final, in a match where Ronaldo’s influence was negligible. Euro 2020 could be the tournament that comes to be seen as a transitional period for the nation as they move from the Ronaldo era to the post-Ronaldo era.
It’s too early to know if they will be able to secure the Euro title next year but Portugal’s success with the Nations League, along with their Euro 2016 success, could even see them as favourites in terms of logical thinking, regardless of what the odds say. As recent history has proven, they have what it takes to go all the way. With the wise old hand of Fernando Santos in charge, Portugal look far from ready to rest on their laurels just yet.