Portugal vs Republic of Ireland preview - Ronaldo starts in final Euro 2024 friendly

Roberto Martínez is definitively a cup-half-full kind of guy.

“The match against Croatia was perfect from the point of view of our preparation for Euro 2024,” the Seleção coach said today, ahead of Portugal’s final friendly before the tournament against the Republic of Ireland in Aveiro tomorrow.

A disappointing performance and a 2-1 defeat may not sound like ideal preparation but the Spaniard insisted: “today we are a better prepared team than before the Croatia match.” 

Questions asked of Martínez 

Martínez enjoyed a brilliant start to his tenure as Portugal coach as the Seleção won all 10 qualifying matches, scoring goals galore, keeping a watertight defence and playing sparkling football, raising hopes of a strong showing in Germany.

Critics pointed to the fact Portugal’s opponents in qualifying were weak teams, and in four friendlies in 2024 it has been a different story. The Seleção beat Sweden and Finland, but lost to Slovenia and Croatia, and have conceded two goals in each of the four games.

There is no doubting the talent available to the Portuguese is the envy of the majority of teams throughout the continent. The question is whether Martínez can put the right pieces in the right places.

Searching for an identity

Much has been made of the tactical flexibility the coach has brought to the national team, which was a breath of fresh air after Fernando Santos’s rigid, conservative gameplan. However, Martínez has arguably been too free and easy with his formations, experimenting with three at the back, a conventional back four, inverted full-backs, wing-backs with licence to bomb forward, a lone striker and two up front, among other nuances.

It has opened up plenty of options, but recent games suggest the Seleção could benefit from sticking to single system, or at least a go-to Plan A to try and finetune during the course of the European Championship.

More changes will be made against Ireland, with Martínez saying the three outfield players yet to see the field since the squad congregated last week will play. “We will be giving minutes to Pepe, Rúben Neves and Cristiano Ronaldo,” he confirmed.

Treading carefully

Another explanation for Portugal’s subpar performance against Croatia may be the fact players are wary of avoiding injury with the team’s Euro 2024 opener against Czechia in Leipzig just one week away.

England and France, for example, endured poor results against Iceland and Canada in their most recent preparation games, possibly with the fear of getting hurt a contributing factor.

Head-to-head history against Ireland

Portugal have played Ireland 15 times in their history, winning 8, drawing 3 and losing 4 matches, although the Seleção have lost only one game against the Irish in their last 8 meetings.

The two nations last met in 2021 in the qualifying phase for the Qatar World Cup. Portugal won the home match in dramatic fashion when two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo in the 89th and 96th minutes turned a losing position into a 2-1 victory in the Algarve. It was the game when Ronaldo became the outright highest international goalscorer of all time, eclipsing Iran's Ali Daei. Two months later the return match in Dublin ended goalless.

Ireland fell a long way short of qualifying for Euro 2024, finishing fourth in their group and accumulating only 6 points from two victories against Gibraltar, losing all their other matches against France, Netherlands and Greece.

However, they have picked up in 2024. In three friendlies against teams who will be at Euro 2024 Ireland drew against Belgium and lost narrowly to Switzerland in March, before beating Hungary 2-1 last week.

The match kicks off at 7.45pm in Aveiro tomorrow.

By Tom Kundert