Euro 2016: 3 factors which will be important if Portugal aim to lift the trophy
Twelve years after their Euro 2004 heartache, Portugal has qualified for the finals of Euro 2016 which will pit them against France in the opposition’s home turf. France are among the only three teams who have ever won a European Championship on home soil. The tension rises as the final date approaches and Portugal, who will go into the match as underdogs will look to create history by winning the first ever major title in the history of their nation. However, victory won’t be easy as they have to overcome a rampant France who are looking to secure their third European title and a second one on home soil.
Coach Fernando Santos has to be cautious in choosing his team bearing in mind the tactical strengths and weaknesses of France. The 61-year-old manager is positive about his team’s chances and is expected to field a team comprising of highly experienced professionals as well as relatively young players.
Here are three things that are essential for Portugal if they are looking to secure a first title:
1) Pepe’s return from Injury:
France have had a formidable attack force throughout the course of the tournament, scoring the maximum number of goals in the campaign and coach Fernando Santos will be heavily banking on Pepe to martial his defensive forces against a dominant French attack.
Pepe has been one of the best players for Portugal in the tournament but was left out from the squad against Wales after picking up a slight muscle problem in training. However, it seems that he has been given the green signal, meaning he will replace Bruno Alves in the heart of the Portugal defence.
Pepe’s responsibility will be huge as his defence line would be facing an experienced and high-quality attack for the first time in the tournament. The Real Madrid centre-back has been in terrific form in past games and he will be hoping to carry this form into the final game. The frontline of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet will be quite aware of Pepe’s aerial ability, strength and his incredible defensive work rate.
With the maximum number of defensive clearances and interceptions to his name, Pepe’s performance at the back will be crucial for Portugal’s success in the finals. Furthermore, Pepe will also be an important player going forward in case of set pieces owing to his ability of heading home the occasional corner.
2) A compact and deep midfield from a diverse choice of players
Portugal has quite a few areas to improve on, but against France, a strong midfield display will be crucial towards contributing to a possible win. With both Joao Moutinho and Andre Gomes partially fit, the responsibility of playing the role of a central playmaker falls on Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches.
The 18-year-old has been very effective in both the matches he started, playing the role of an attacking midfielder .His pace and ball retention ability have been impressive and he has already booked a place for himself in the starting line-up for the final in Paris.
From previous games, France’s primary strategy has been to capitalise on the opposition’s mistakes in the middle of the park. A deep-lying midfielder in the form of William Carvalho might be what Fernando Santos will opt for against an opposition like them.
A strong defensive midfielder, Carvalho comes in as the player dropping in deep in front of the defenders. This strategy has already come in handy for Portugal against Poland as long balls have been dealt with quite efficiently without exposing Pepe or Fonte at the back.
Santos has a number of midfield options on his bench but will stick to starting Joao Mario, who has not been having a really good campaign so far. Mario’s place in the first squad remains fixed even though Ricardo Quaresma has been a more effective choice for that position. There have been questions asked regarding Santos’s late involvement of Quaresma (who has proved to be immensely functional) in every match, but Santos has been persistent on starting the 23-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder.
3) Ronaldo and Nani finding form
The former Manchester United teammates must look to rekindle their title-winning partnership at Old Trafford and play the best game of their lives to help Portugal secure a first ever European title. Cristiano Ronaldo netted a stunning header to put Portugal ahead against Wales and followed it up with a shot which was cleverly finished by Nani.
With six goals and four assists between them, the Portuguese duo will look to catch the French defenders on the break and score as early as possible in the game. Three-time world player of the year Ronaldo, has not been in his usual goal-scoring form but has shown brief displays of brilliant attacking football, helping Portugal reach the finals for the second time in his career.
It will be a huge opportunity for him as he will look to win his first tournament in national colors. Optimistic Portuguese head coach Fernando Santos along with half of the world will be expecting him to return to prime form before the final kicks off at the Stade de France on Sunday.
Better late than never right?