World Cup preview: Portugal

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews Portugal's chances at the tournament as they look to build on their triumph at Euro 2016.

Having been crowned European champions in France two years ago, Portugal will now turn their attentions to the world stage as they look to complete a double which has only been managed three times before.

West Germany (1972, 1974), France (1998, 2000) and Spain (2008, 2010, 2012) are the only teams to have held both the European Championship title and the World Cup crown at the same time, and Portugal could join that exclusive list this summer.

The Portugal team lines up before their international friendly with Algeria on June 7, 2018© Reuters

The Selecao's triumph at Euro 2016 was their first major trophy and they will not travel to Russia as one of the main favourites to be crowned world champions, but with their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad they will always feel that they have a chance.

Here, Sports Mole previews Portugal's World Cup hopes.


GROUP

Group B provides one of the more mouth-watering clashes in the opening stage of the World Cup, with Iberian rivals Portugal and Spain - between them winners of the past three European Championships - being drawn alongside each other.

World Cup Group B

It would be a shock if both teams didn't go through to the knockout stages, but their meeting on the opening day of Group B action could go a long way to determining which of the European heavyweights progress as winners of their section.

Fernando Santos's side will be expected to overcome Morocco and Iran in their two subsequent games so will be confident of making it into the round of 16 at least, but top spot could be the difference between facing Uruguay or a lower-ranked team so Portugal will be desperate to beat Spain to it.

PORTUGAL FIXTURES

June 15: Portugal vs. Spain (7pm, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)
June 20: Portugal vs. Morocco (1pm, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
June 25: Iran vs. Portugal (7pm, Mordovia Arena, Saransk)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Fresh off the back of their Euro 2016 glory, Portugal would have gone into Group B of qualifying as heavy favourites to automatically progress from a group containing the likes of Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra.

However, they may not have expected such a strong challenge from Switzerland, whose 2-0 victory over Portugal in the opening match of the section left Ronaldo and co playing catch-up from the start.

The Portugal players celebrate with their fans after their win over Switzerland in October 2017 which sealed their place at the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

Santos's side made light work of the other teams in the group, winning their next eight games and scoring 30 goals in the process, but Switzerland also kept winning and ultimately it all came down to the final match, when Portugal hosted the group leaders in Lisbon.

The Selecao knew that any victory would be enough due to their superior goal difference, and sure enough an own goal from Johan Djourou and second-half strike from Andre Silva saw Portugal leapfrog the long-time leaders at the last second and book their place on the plane to Russia.


RECENT FORM

Portugal will go into the World Cup with only one defeat in their last 12 outings - including a third-place finish at the Confederations Cup last year - but their results in the immediate build-up to the tournament have been mixed.

The European champions squandered a 2-0 lead at home to Tunisia in their opening warm-up game to draw 2-2, and were held again by Belgium in Brussels five days later, although that stalemate will have been a lot more satisfactory.

Portugal forward Goncalo Guedes celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring during an international friendly with Algeria on June 7, 2018© Reuters

Ronaldo returned for the final warm-up game as Portugal ran out 3-0 winners over Algeria to ensure that they will travel to Russia off the back of a victory, ending a three-match winless streak which began with defeat to the Netherlands in March.

Portugal have also beaten Mohamed Salah's Egypt already this year, although they needed two stoppage-time goals from Ronaldo to come from behind in Zurich.


SQUAD

Portugal World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon).

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica).

Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting).

Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).


STAR PLAYER - Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo in action during the friendly game between Portugal and Algeria on June 7, 2018© Reuters

If guiding Portugal to the Euro 2016 crown further enhanced Ronaldo's claim of being the greatest player of all time, even if he did watch the majority of the final from the sidelines barking instructions, then lifting the World Cup this summer may well end the debate for some.

There is no shame in the European champions being heavily reliant on one man - not when that player boasts the ability of Ronaldo, who netted a further 15 goals in nine matches during qualification.

Andre Silva works as a perfect strike partner for the Real Madrid ace, too, allowing Ronaldo to more often than not leave his mark on the biggest games.

Named the best player in the world by FIFA in each of the last two years, and now the leading goalscorer of all time for Portugal and Madrid, could this be the summer that CR7 makes his biggest impact on the world stage?

One goal in each of the last three editions of the tournament is a record that needs improving on in Russia, yet you would not bet against Ronaldo ensuring that all eyes are on him come July 15.


MANAGER - Fernando Santos

Portugal manager Fernando Santos on May 28, 2018© Reuters

Santos's crowning moment came just two years ago when he led Portugal to the Euro 2016 title - their first ever major international trophy.

Prior to that, the 63-year-old had enjoyed a modest managerial career, cutting his teeth in the Portuguese and Greek leagues, the highlight of which saw him lead Porto to the Primeira Liga title in 1998-99.

Santos then moved into international management with Greece in 2010, where he enjoyed a productive four-year spell which included a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2012 and Greece's first ever run to the knockout rounds of the World Cup two years later - only losing in a penalty shootout against Costa Rica.

Santos's actions on the touchline in that defeat saw him handed a six-game ban which overshadowed the early stages of his Portugal career, but he has since enjoyed huge success at the helm of his native country.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Third place (1966)

Portugal players react after beating England on penalties in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final© Reuters

Portugal will be appearing in their fifth consecutive World Cup finals this summer, but their place at the tournament was not always so assured. Before the turn of the century, they qualified just twice out of 15 attempts spanning from 1934 right up to their absence from France 1998.

One of those two 20th century World Cup outings provided their best-ever finish in the competition, though, as Eusebio and co fired Portugal to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by hosts and eventual champions England before overcoming the Soviet Union in the third placed playoff.

There was further semi-final heartbreak at the 2006 World Cup when they were beaten by France in the last four before going on to lose at the hands of Germany and finish fourth.

Three of Portugal's previous six appearances at the tournament have ended in the group stages, including four years ago in Brazil when they failed to bounce back from a 4-0 defeat to eventual champions Germany in their opening game, drawing with United States and beating Ghana but still crashing out of the competition.


PREDICTION

With Ronaldo in their ranks, Portugal can never be ruled out completely. Being drawn in the same group as Spain makes things difficult from the outset, though, and we expect them to finish as runners-up to their Iberian rivals.

Doing so would likely see them face Uruguay in the last 16, and while that is a game which could go either way, we are backing the South Americans to come out on top.

VERDICT: Last 16

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How far will Portugal go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
12.5%
Last 16
12.5%
Quarter-finals
6.3%
Semi-finals
18.8%
Runners-up
6.3%
Winners
43.8%
The Uruguay squad lines up for their official photo shoot ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia
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World Cup preview: Uruguay
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