Euro 2020 was postponed for one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is now scheduled to be held from 12 June to 12 July 2021. The semi-finals and final will take place at Wembley Stadium in London, which perhaps part explains why England are among the favourites to win the championship at odds of roughly 4/1, while Portugal are relative outsiders behind the likes of France, Belgium, Spain and Germany
Fernando Santos and his men will not be concerned about that, though. Portugal tend to thrive in the underdog role, as memorably exemplified at the Stade de France on 10 July 2016 as Cristiano Ronaldo lifted the trophy after the Seleção shocked the hosts thanks to substitute Eder’s memorable long-range winner.
Portugal’s team has changed greatly from that famous night in Paris. With our friends from duxcasino.com, PortuGOAL selects a Seleção line-up based on current form for Euro 2020 (yes, the event will retain its name even though it will be held in the summer 2021). Here is Portugal’s potential XI if the tournament were to begin tomorrow.
The 33-year-old Wolverhampton Wanderers stopper is Portugal’s record appearance holder for a goalkeeper, and if the Seleção go far at Euro 2020 he may reach 100 caps for his country during the competition. Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes has proved himself a worthy substitute in some recent games, but with another solid season in the Premier League behind him, Santos will continue to place his trust in Rui Patrício.
With clubs like Benfica, Valencia, Inter Milan and Juventus on his CV, João Cancelo was hardly an unknown, but it is this season, under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, that the 26-year-old has taken his game to another level. A graduate of Benfica’s youth academy, Cancelo has been simply magnificent for the EPL runaway leaders. A creative hub for the citizens, despite being notionally a defender, Cancelo can be seen constantly pushing up field and playing more like a midfield schemer or winger.
Vastly experienced centre-back Pepe will turn 38 next week, but like fine wine, he just gets better with age. A member of the Portugal team since 2007, Pepe has won everything there is to win, yet his appetite for the game and competitive spirit remain undiminished, as shown with another excellent display for Porto in the Portuguese club’s 2-1 victory over Juventus this week.
Partnering Pepe at the heart of Portugal’s defence is centre-back Rúben Dias, who like Cancelo has seen his reputation fly through the roof this season at Manchester City, winning several Player of the Month awards since his transfer from Benfica in September 2020. Just 23 years old, he has already racked up 24 caps for his country and barring injury Dias will be a mainstay of the Portugal team for the next decade.
A big favourite of Portugal coach Fernando Santos, Borussia Dortmund left-back Raphaël Guerriero, a winner of Euro 2016, remains a consistently excellent performer for the German outfit. The emergence of brilliant young left-back Nuno Mendes at Sporting will no doubt provide competition for this spot in the team in the near future, but Raphaël’s experience (45 caps) and consistency in club football this season sees him hold onto his place in the XI.
Defensive midfielder João Palhinha has been a revelation at the surprise leaders in Portugal, Sporting Clube de Portugal, and his brilliant performances for his home-town club get him into the line-up. The 25-year-old’s place in the team is also secured by the fact the usual suspects in this position are struggling for form. Fernando Santos likes to play with a double pivot at the base of midfield, but with William Carvalho in and out of the Real Betis side and Danilo yet to establish himself as a regular starter at PSG, Palhinha is the obvious choice as Portugal’s holding midfielder.
Touted as a wonderkid when making his debut for FC Porto as a 17-year-old way back in 2009, Oliveira has had to take the long route to football stardom. The midfielder made steady progress through a series of loan moves both in Portugal and abroad (at six different clubs!), but it is under current Porto coach and his namesake Sérgio Conceição that Oliveira has flourished. Scorer of 14 goals in 35 appearances in 2020/21, his astute positioning, selfless running and intelligent and simple game will complement Portugal’s array of extravagant stars perfectly.
The Manchester United man has been incredible since moving to England in January 2020, scoring 33 goals in 58 appearances for the Red Devils to become not only the club’s best player, but arguably the best player in the English Premier League over the last 12 months. In addition to his goals, Bruno is a fountain of creativity, providing assists on a regular basis with his quick thinking and range of clever passes. Although he is yet to hit his stride wearing the national team shirt, Fernandes is simply too good to leave out of the starting eleven.
Bernardo Silva is the third of Manchester City’s Portuguese trio who is enjoying a wonderful season. The 26-year-old has wizardry in his left foot, and his unusual combination of dribbling skill, passion, intelligence, attentiveness, determination and work rate makes him a dream player for any coach. It was no surprise to see Pep Guardiola lavish the highest of praise on Bernardo earlier this week.
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This Portugal line-up is based on form, but form has never been an issue for the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo. Now 36 years old, the Seleção captain continues to defy age, as his 23 goals in 27 matches for an often-misfiring Juventus team this season attest. Still the first name on the Portugal team-sheet, on merit, not because of the fact he is one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen.
The emergence of João Félix and Diogo Jota pushed André Silva down the pecking order, but with indifferent form and injury affecting the Atletico Madrid and Liverpool players, Silva’s spectacular goal-scoring over the past few months appears perfect timing. The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been unstoppable this season, scoring 19 goals in 22 matches and is primed to resume his prolific partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of Portugal’s attack. The two combined brilliantly when André Silva first broke into the Portugal team, and Seleção fans will be hoping more goals from the duo help Fernando Santos’ team successfully defend their European Championship crown.
by Tom Kundert