Rotation on the cards and a nod to the past ahead of Portugal’s final Euro 2024 group game against Georgia

“I’m not going to carry out a revolution, but I will rotate. There are lots of players who deserve to be in the eleven.”

Those were the words of Portugal coach Roberto Martínez after the Seleção guaranteed top spot in Group F with a game to spare by beating Turkey 3-0 in Dortmund. 

Historical precedence – two differing examples

Portugal have been in this position before. At Euro 2008, curiously after beating Turkey and the Czech Republic in their opening two matches, the then-coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made eight alterations to the starting XI for their final group game against the Switzerland.

The Seleção lost 2-0 to the joint hosts, ended up losing 3-2 to Germany in the first knockout round, and the Brazilian coach was heavily criticised for having “killed” Portugal’s momentum.

If we go further back, at Euro 2000 Portugal also started the tournament perfectly, beating England and Romania to book their place in the knockout phase early.

Coach Humberto Coelho also made eight changes to the team, one of whom, Sérgio Conceição scored a hat-trick as the Seleção thumped the Germans 3-0 to set them on their way to a brilliant run, only ended by eventual winners France in the semi-finals.

In the Germany game, Coelho even substituted Portugal’s second-choice goalkeeper Quim late on, with their third-choice goalkeeper Pedro Espinho, meaning all 22 members of the squad had been on the pitch at some stage during the group phase.

Martínez to follow suit?

So, how relevant are the above examples and what conclusions can we draw in terms of trying to second-guess the thinking of Martínez?

In terms of keeping morale high among the players by making everyone feel involved, especially given the incredible depth of Portugal’s squad, and to keep the most important players fresh, we can surely expect wholesale changes.

A word of warning though. If Portugal’s first teamers are kept on the bench, a full eight days separate the Türkiye match and the round-of-16 encounter. Such a long rest could be inadvisable in terms of disrupting a player’s rhythm. 

 


Portugal beat Turkey 3-0 at Euro 2024 to take top spot in Group F

Francisco Conceição scores late as Portugal beat Czech Republic 2-1 at Euro 2024


 

The (almost) certainties for rest time

Rafael Leão is suspended. Pepe will surely be rested given his propensity to pick up injuries and his still huge importance to Portugal, as proven against the Turks. João Palhinha is unlikely to be risked having picked up a yellow in Dortmund. Nuno Mendes has been brilliant so far in Germany, and given his injury record in recent years – including missing a sizeable chunk of the season just finished – he will surely be rested.

The question marks

Key players such as captain Cristiano Ronaldo, right-back João Cancelo and one or more of the nailed-on midfield trio of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Vitinha could also be rested, or given limited minutes.

Incomers

On the other side of the coin, who will come into the starting XI? João Félix is yet play a single minute at Euro 2024 and it would be no surprise to see the Barcelona man given a start. Gonçalo Ramos and Diogo Jota are also strong candidates to play against Georgia, especially if Ronaldo sits this one out.

With Leão out, the front line could look very different. Francisco Conceição and Pedro Neto have already left their mark on the tournament with limited minutes. The former especially can expect to play more significant role in tomorrow’s match.

Other good bets to play from the start are João Neves, depending on how Martínez manages the Bruno-Bernardo-Vitinha axis, Nélson Semedo, and one or two of António Silva, Gonçalo Inácio and possibly even Danilo, depending on the formation.

The pre-match press conference later today will give us more clues.

By Tom Kundert