With two fixtures left in Portugal’s World Cup 2022 qualifying schedule, nobody expected the Cristiano Ronaldo show to miss the station. Yet, unfortunately for the seasoned striker, that's exactly what went down. After poor results against the Republic and Ireland and Serbia, where the team only picked up a single point, the Seleção dropped to second in Group A. 

Portugal must now go through an excruciating playoff campaign that is certain to test the resolve of fans, but with Portuguese players continuing to thrive around Europe’s biggest clubs the question is: are Fernando Santos’ men really too good to fail? 

The cream rises to the top 

There’s no doubt that the Portuguese are experiencing a run of poor form. Normally, two games against opposition ranked far below them would be enough for them to secure the points they need to top the group, especially as the decisive game against Serbia was in front of home fans. However it didn’t happen and now a squad many claim is the strongest ever in Portugal’s history is paying the price. The Seleção and Ronaldo face the very real prospect of missing the World Cup, needing to get past Turkey and in all likelihood Italy to book their berth in Qatar.

It beggars belief when you consider the talent that makes up the squad is almost certainly greater than it has been in the past decade, maybe even in the last couple of decades. Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Dias and João Cancelo are pulling up trees and earning rave reviews in the world’s most high-profile championship, the English Premier League. And Portugal coach Fernando Santos can further bolster his team with extravagantly talented footballers plying their trade all around Europe such as João Félix (Spain), Renato Sanches (France) and Rafael Leão (Italy), not to mention home-based players like João Palhinha, Rafa Silva and Pedro Gonçalves.

Coach Fernando Santos has come under fierce criticism, but the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) have decided to stick with the man who guided Portugal to Euro 2016 glory. Santos himself remains upbeat about his team getting to the World Cup, although he admitted that should they fail he will step down.

Portugal’s first obstacle will be Turkey, and if the bookmakers are to be believed, at least, Portugal seem well placed to win. This is reflected in the betting as Portugal are the clear 4/13 favourites for the contest in March 2022. Indeed, the bookies are so confident Santos’ players will come through unscathed that they are the tenth favourites to win the 2022 World Cup outright at odds of 25/1. Turkey’s odds, meanwhile, are 150/1, which tells you everything you need to know. The fact that Portugal’s head-to-head record against Turkey is six victories and two losses in eight matches cements the bookies’ odds, as do 11 straight successful qualification campaigns for Portugal since 2000, including qualifying through the playoffs three times.

Trouble in the camp  

Despite this air of confidence, however, there are worrying signs the Portuguese aren’t completely comfortable in their own skins. Speculation was rife that Ronaldo and Santos traded words after the Serbia defeat, and although the veteran coach quickly shot down any notion of a rift, it isn’t coincidental that a lot of problems, big and small, have plagued the Seleção for several months. While the FPF are firmly behind their man, several of the gossip columns suggest he has lost the dressing room.  

Santos himself steadfastly insists Portugal will be at the finals. Whether that’s a sign of his confidence or delusion, yet to be backed by worthy performances, remains to be seen. Still, although the football world expects and wants to see the likes of Ronaldo and Bernardo in the Middle East next year, the uncertain mood of the camp could be a significant factor if and when the expected showdown against Italy transpires on 29 March 2022.

Italy lie in wait

The reigning European champions, Italy, finished behind Switzerland in Group C, meaning they also must qualify for Qatar via the playoffs. The Azzurri didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, yet that was the first time they had failed to do so since 1958. And they bounced back in style, playing proactive football on their way to winning Euro 2020, beating hosts England in the final.

If it is a Portugal versus Italy final – Italy are quoted as huge 2/9 favourites to overcome North Macedonia – it will be a match between the last two European champions, which is a contest worthy of a World Cup Final itself. Aside from a squad packed with quality, Santos will look to home advantage to give his boys the edge. Not only will they play at home against Turkey, but they’ll be on home turf for the final, too, should they get there.

A caveat to this is that the Portuguese played at home against Serbia when they lost 2-1 on Matchday 10. And everyone is aware Italy has a glorious football history; they are a side that can play high-octane exhilarating football, but who are also willing to scrap and fight for victory when need be.

On paper, the Portuguese side is too good to miss out on qualifying. But football is a funny game, and as Portugal have proven recently, having a dazzling array of stars is of no use if the team as a whole is misfiring on all cylinders. The world will be watching come March.

 

Comments (16)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

BREAKING NEWS.......

We may get our wish after all.

Fernando Santos may leave before the playoffs.

It seems that not only is Greece interested in him becoming there coach....

A well connected source has told me, "There are a few defensive...

BREAKING NEWS.......

We may get our wish after all.

Fernando Santos may leave before the playoffs.

It seems that not only is Greece interested in him becoming there coach....

A well connected source has told me, "There are a few defensive minded teams in the Premier League who think Fernando Santos is the man for them.

I asked why do they feel that way?

"Fernando Santos is the only person who knows how to shut down Bernardo, Cancelo, Jota and completely nullifies Fernandes. He would be of great help to a few PL teams who have been victims of the list above."

How about Ronaldo?

" Santos tried, but like many others in the past, you can only slow him down for a bit, before he gets some clutch goals."

There you have peeps straight from the WTF News Network.

By the way, WTF News Network is short for the Wishful Thinking Fake News Network.

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Paulo
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Gabe, really? you are going to blame it on Var? there are twists and turns to every game including not having VAR in Serbia. Yet we were recently playing at home (Lisbon) , good weather, fan support , and only needing a draw with everyone...

Gabe, really? you are going to blame it on Var? there are twists and turns to every game including not having VAR in Serbia. Yet we were recently playing at home (Lisbon) , good weather, fan support , and only needing a draw with everyone available to play except for Pepe. And we give up a last minute goal. Also we were winning that VAR game in Serbia 2 to nil at the half and we draw 2 to 2. Ronaldo should thrown the captain's band at his teammates not the ground at the end of that game.

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John Senos
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The wound is still sore from the Serbia lose. So hard to accept any optimism at this point. I cannot shake off that lost still. Who knows what will happen come March 2022. What players will be available? who might be injured? who might have...

The wound is still sore from the Serbia lose. So hard to accept any optimism at this point. I cannot shake off that lost still. Who knows what will happen come March 2022. What players will be available? who might be injured? who might have Covid? will there even be fans in the stands? what we know is the Cancelo and Renato will miss first game against Turkey. Crappy Fernando Santos will still be the coach. If we get past Turkey, Italy will be a tough opponent who don't want to miss a second world cup themselves. We suck.

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John Senos
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What makes you so sure Portugal will meet Italy? Italy drew against Bulgaria and Northern Ireland.

Samuel
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Samuel, because that is how this nightmare ends for Portugal. Having to face an Italy team not win the WC but to just qualify for the WC. North Macedonia is riding that high that Iceland had a few years ago when they were this surprise team...

Samuel, because that is how this nightmare ends for Portugal. Having to face an Italy team not win the WC but to just qualify for the WC. North Macedonia is riding that high that Iceland had a few years ago when they were this surprise team that no one was expecting anything from. The surprise is over. Italy will be more than ready for NM.

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John Senos
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Italy are late bloomers in competition. They will face us and it will be a frustrating match..

Jerrold Hewson
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If Portugal miss out in the W.C. because of no v.a.r. In Serbia it’s a disgrace on FIFA. Who ever wins the W.C. Will have an asterisk thanks to FIFA.

Gabe. ( Ribeirinha)
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Goal-line technology not really VAR. But I doubt we should go as far as the World Cup winner. Good thing this frustration is in an away game against Serbia and not a game against Ireland or a home game against Azerbaijan.

Samuel
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I am not sure what will happen but I can guarantee an awful boring bland excruciating brand of football from Portugal. Its going to be ugly

Val
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I'm not against a boring football if there's a rock solid defence and the team has a strategy on scoring goals. But the team looks just pathetic defensively. So you're right, with small exceptions (that confirm the rule), Portugal mutated from a...

I'm not against a boring football if there's a rock solid defence and the team has a strategy on scoring goals. But the team looks just pathetic defensively. So you're right, with small exceptions (that confirm the rule), Portugal mutated from a Greece like approach of the game to something bland and uglier even than anti-football.

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Samuel
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Agreed.

I think we all know how the matches will play out. Either a slight 1-0 win at the last with Ronaldo scoring a worldy or we squeak through on PK's.

No way in hell Santos goes for the throat and attacks Turkey and Italy (which he...

Agreed.

I think we all know how the matches will play out. Either a slight 1-0 win at the last with Ronaldo scoring a worldy or we squeak through on PK's.

No way in hell Santos goes for the throat and attacks Turkey and Italy (which he should), Its going to be a double-triple-quadruple pivot strategy with endless balls into the box and praying for CR7 to get a head on 1 of them. Its embarrasing with a team made up of so many 1 on 1 gifted players.

I get so mad at watching Bernardo, Cancelo, Rueben DOMINATE their games, Diogo Jota with Liverpool, Bruno F with Man U and for the Selecao...meh. So if they play so well for Klopp, Pep, Amorim, Pioli why do they play so poorly for Portugal? What is the variable thats different in these cases? If you dont know by now I am not going to spoon feed anyone.

Then we have Pote, Andre Silva, Goncalo Guedes who do nothing but score and Santos gives them no time yet gives Bruno F nothing but starts and time and he consistently is worst man in match. Normies like to take a dump on Silva and Guedes yet Portugal play BETTER with a traditional striker, anyhow this is just raising my blood pressure again....Merry Christmas Samuel. lol

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Val
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Thanks, Merry Christmas to you too!

Samuel
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Val, I totally agree with you. Portuguese players lighting up the score boards across the Premier, Series A, La Liga ....leagues. Yet on the national team, nothing. Question for Mr Santos, why is that?

John Senos
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Jose Sa
Dalot Pepe Dias
Semedo. Sanches W. Carvalho B.Silva Cancelo
Felix
Ronaldo
If Santos can play 4 in the back vs Turkey and then...

Jose Sa
Dalot Pepe Dias
Semedo. Sanches W. Carvalho B.Silva Cancelo
Felix
Ronaldo
If Santos can play 4 in the back vs Turkey and then surprise Italy in the Final with this lineup , We'd be hard pressed to lose.

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Gee Dee
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Santos the disillusioned, as he will be known, has said many times a back 3 is too radical for this squad.

That sounds like a scaredy cat answer to me. I think he is a man without ideas or balls, unfortunately.

Jerrold Hewson
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I hear you Jerrold , hopefully he at least starts Sa , and after today's performance and his history with the national team , it might be a good idea to start Guedes up front with Ronnie.

Gee Dee
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