Euro Glory and World Cup Woe
Portugal won Euro 2016, the nation’s first major trophy. Yet only two years later at the 2018 World Cup the team scraped out of the group stage and exited at the first knockout round (losing to Uruguay).
With such an up-and-down performance at the two most recent European and World Cup tournaments, what chance do they have at the 2022 World Cup?
The Betting View
Odds vary from one bookie to the next, but, according to the Betfair Exchange at the time of writing, Portugal is the seventh favourite for the Euro 2020 title. Their odds are longer than France, England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, but shorter than Italy and Croatia. That’s pretty long for the reigning champions.
It’s a similar picture for the World Cup odds, but with Brazil, Argentina, and (perhaps surprisingly) Italy ahead of them this time as well. It’s worth remembering that odds are not predictions of the future but an attempt by bookies and gamblers to analyse a market and assess the chances of something happening (so in 20 attempts a 5% chance should, all else being equal, happen once). Portugal’s World Cup odds at the time of writing are 19/1 on the Betfair Exchange, and a lengthy 33/1 on Ladbrokes. But should they be, at best, second tier outsiders?
There are some defensive concerns about the Portuguese side ahead of Euro 2020. Qualification for the tournament itself is likely, but not quite certain. Portugal is currently second in qualifying group B, behind Ukraine and ahead of Serbia, Luxembourg, and Lithuania. This places the team in a qualification spot, with a much better goal difference than every team behind them, and with an easier remaining schedule.
In 2019 to date, the team started with a lacklustre pair of draws against Ukraine and Serbia, before going on to start a four match winning streak. During this quartet of wins they’ve racked up 13 goals and won the Nations League. Qualification isn’t 100% certain but it’s highly likely.
Last year the team only lost twice. Annoyingly, one of these was the first knockout stage of the last World Cup, but the other was just a friendly against the Netherlands. Both teams that beat Portugal can be considered stiff opposition. Perhaps more concerning is that other results saw six wins but seven draws. It’s possible to win World Cups by taking multiple penalty shootouts, but they’re fraught with risk (just ask any England fan).
Looking purely on recent results, it’s hard to say that Portugal should be favourites for the 2022 World Cup. One thing in the team’s favour is that it’s some years off, and there’s time for fresh talent to emerge and/or mature. But if the World Cup was to be played right now, they’re looking more like good competitors rather than title contenders.
How Portugal fare at the Euros will affect their perceived chances at the World Cup. But it’s important to remember that form can vary a lot. In two years the Seleção went from winning the Euros to a pretty early departure from the World Cup. Correspondingly, a great Euros campaign doesn’t necessarily mean the World Cup will go well, or vice versa.
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World Cup Timing and Format
Whenever predicting a sport result it’s important to bear in mind rule changes. Formula 1 changes every season, football tends to be rather more stable. The 2022 World Cup is set to be staged in Qatar, the first time an Arabic or Muslim-majority country has hosted the prestigious event. Due to summers where temperatures can hit 50 degrees Celsius, the tournament will be in November and December. Temperatures should be more moderate, but if the ‘winter’ is hotter than average then that could affect some teams more than others.
There had been plans for air-conditioned stadia to address the summer temperature, but a calendar shift was preferred. Because of this, if the temperatures do exceed the average, players will find themselves getting pretty hot. Acclimatisation and fitness could be significant factors when considering who might do well. Luckily for the Portuguese, the winter temperatures of Qatar are pretty similar to the summer months back home, so it should be less of a problem for them than for, say, northern European teams.
There was some discussion about altering the format of the World Cup so that 48 rather than 32 teams would be involved. The authorities decided to retain the 32 team format for 2022, but there are plans to increase that to 48 for the following World Cup, so bear that in mind if you’re looking even further ahead.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the giants of the game and a huge asset for the Portuguese team. Portugal recently hammered Lithuania 5-1, as part of their European Championship qualifying campaign. However, four of the Portuguese goals came from Ronaldo alone. Remove him from the team, and you’re left with a 1-1 draw (unless a theoretical replacement scored, of course).
Any team with a superstar stands a better chance of progression, and Ronaldo’s undoubtedly a key player for Portugal. But he’ll also be nearly 40 by the time the World Cup rolls around, and probably past his best. It certainly isn’t enough for fans to rely on him alone.
Bernardo Silva is another key player for Portugal and the Manchester City wizard is now coming into his own for the national team, provding 5 assists and scoring one goal in Portugal’s last four matches.
It’s perhaps in defence and especially at centre-back that the biggest question marks arise. Euro 2016 winners Pepe and José Fonte are reaching the end of their careers. There are younger options right now to partner Rúben Dias, such as his Benfica partner Ferro, or a player such as Rúben Vezo, Paulo Oliveira, Pedro Mendes or Domingos Duarte, but it can take time for good players to integrate into a great team. With the World Cup two years away there is plenty of time for experimentation, but, ideally, Portugal needs to have its preferred side in place and regularly playing together in 2021, the year before the tournament, to iron out kinks and ensure the whole team gels together nicely.
To answer the question in the title: yes. Portugal does have a shot at the 2022 World Cup. Personally, for the best indication I’d suggest focusing not on the Euro 2020 tournament (just look at England and Portugal, teams with totally different Euro and World Cup experiences last time around), but on 2021. For me, that’s the key year. If it’s not working by then, there’s probably not enough time to turn things around.