Image: Wikimedia Commons / Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency

Why Portugal will defend their crown

Five years ago, Eder struck in the dying embers of extra time, firing Portugal to a triumphant victory in Euro 2016 ahead of home nation France in the process. Since then, however, a lot has changed.

France, runners-up in that tournament, were later victorious in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and boast one of the strongest line-ups in the world, if not the strongest.

Portugal, by contrast, fell at the first knockout round in that World Cup three years ago, despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s best efforts to drag them kicking and screaming into the quarter-finals.

They were sent packing by an exciting Uruguayan side, with Edinson Cavani putting on a finishing clinic as his team earned their spot in the next round.

A year later, Portugal once again showed their European pedigree, as they beat Switzerland and the Netherlands at the first Nations League finals to take home the trophy.

At Euro 2020, Portugal have been drawn into the ‘group of death’, facing off against the likes of Hungary, Germany, and of course, France. This is by far the strongest group on paper, but is part of the reason I believe Portugal will win the competition.

Of the teams involved in the group, the two favourites to advance are surely Portugal and France, though Germany certainly won’t make it easy for them, with Hungary unfortunately, by no fault of their own, the designated whipping boys of this collection of teams.

The Portugal squad have all enjoyed mixed seasons at a domestic level, though individually, this squad have taken huge steps forward over the course of the year.

In Rui Patricio and Anthony Lopes, Portugal have some of the safest pairs of hands at the tournament, and their defence has made drastic improvements since their victory in 2016.

Raphael Guerreiro has been a revelation at Borussia Dortmund over the past few seasons, making scintillating runs from his defensive role on the left flank, with his form partly compensating for the absence of Joao Cancelo after he contracted coronavirus. 

His club teammate, 23-year-old Ruben Dias, has been outstanding for the recently crowned Premier League champions, forming part of a near-impenetrable backline for City, and developing into a real leader on the pitch, the likes of which the Sky Blues haven’t had since Vincent Kompany departed.

Nuno Mendes and Luís Neto have had stunning seasons with Sporting Clube de Portugal as they also claimed their own league title, Sporting’s first in twenty years.

The midfield is the true strength of this side result

The midfield is arguably the true strength of this side, though, with the duo of Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes giving Portugal two of the Premier League’s most productive and creative midfield players.

Renato Sanches has been reborn in France with title hopefuls Lille, and the likes of Danilo Pereira, Ruben Neves, and vice-captain Joao Moutinho cannot be overlooked either.

Of course, captain fantastic Cristiano Ronaldo will take up one of the spots in the team’s attack, but this team, already bursting with quality, also has the likes of Diogo Jota, Pedro Neto, and Joao Felix to call upon.

One player who I think could be crucial to Portugal’s title defence, however, is André Silva.

The 25-year-old has endured a number of difficult seasons, but at Frankfurt, the striker seems to have found his goal-scoring touch.

25 goals in 30 appearances this term has his team very much in contention for a Champions League spot next season, occupying fifth place at the time of writing, just a point behind Dortmund.

Ronaldo has had a rough season with Juventus, but he has still scored prolifically this season, and if there’s one thing you can guarantee this man will bring, it is a never-ending appetite for winning and scoring. Being starved of trophies at club level will only make this man more determined than ever to bring some silverware home this summer.

Portugal are of course in no way guaranteed winners. The competition will be incredible this year, and there is a real risk that they are sent packing in the group stages, but this squad has so much quality and depth that I can’t look past them as my favourites for the delayed Euros this summer.

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