It has been nearly a year since Portugal won Euro 2016, but it seems like only yesterday. Moment’s like Payet’s volley, Shaqiri’s bicycle kick, Dier’s free kick are still fresh in the mind. The campaign was a rollercoaster ride for Fernando Santos’ side, which saw various highs and lows throughout the tournament. It all culminated with Eder’s goal in extra time, one that would be cherished for generations to come in the country, for it brought Portugal their first major international silverware.
And now fast forward one year, they stand on the brink of recreating history, with the opportunity to add to their international tally, courtesy the FIFA Confederations Cup. While the Euro turned out to be an uphill battle where the underdogs were victors, this time the ball is in their court. And today, we present five reasons why Portugal should be considered as one of the favourites to win FIFA Confederations Cup 2017.
#5 Absence of tough competition
One reason why the Confederations Cup is never able to garner as many viewers as some of the other international footballing events, is because of the relatively poor quality of competition. The quality of football played in countries belonging to UEFA and CONMEBOL make them favourites against teams that play in other confederations. This is easily proven by the fact that only once has a team outside of Europe and South America won this competition.
Now on paper, there are always these three favourites to win this event. The World Champions, the European Champions and the South American Champions. Occasionally we can add the host team to this list, for example, Brazil in 2013. On this occasion though, the hosts, Russia don't have much in their favour except favourable home conditions.
The two major thorns in the way of the Portuguese are going to be Germany and Chile. While Chilean football itself is going through a golden period with a team that won consecutive Copa America tournaments, things haven’t gone that well for them since. They stand fourth in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers CONMEBOL table, just three points within the qualification zone for next year’s mega event.
On the other hand, in order to give some much-deserved rest to their senior players, Germany have sent a young and inexperienced team. They seem more concerned about testing some new faces than winning the tournament.
While both these teams are still capable of giving Portugal a fight for their money, they aren’t good enough to be declared the outright favourites.
#4 Exciting Youth
“Players like Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Podolski developed a lot during the tournament in 2005. One year later at the World Cup, they were indispensable,” said Germany’s coach Joachim Low, explaining the effect of the tournament on three future German legends. Truer words have never been spoken as history is witness to the fact that the Confederations Cup has always been a proving ground for young and upcoming stars.
From Ronaldinho in 1999 to Neymar in 2013, a number of rising stars have used this platform to announce their arrival on the world stage.
Portugal today boasts of some of the most promising youths in the world. At the full back positions, they have Raphael Guerreiro and Nelson Semendo who were crucial throughout the season for their respective clubs. Then there is Andre Silva, who has scored six goals in 2018 World Cup qualifiers so far. His prolifice form for both club and country, in fact, saw his seal a mega deal to AC Milan recently.
And one name which is on everyone’s mind is that of winger Bernardo Silva. Though Kylian Mbappe garnered the most attention for Monaco’s stellar season, Silva was the actual catalyst behind it. His prowess on the right flank helped the club from the principality get past much-fancied opponents like Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in Champions League whilst helping them trounce PSG on their route to winning the Ligue 1 crown. The question now remains, can he replicate this form with the national team as well? If yes, then be prepared for a footballing treat.
#3 Perfect blend of old and new
Five years back, in 2012, Spain was at the peak of the footballing world. They dominated throughout the European Championship, with a crushing 4-0 victory against the Azzurri. Fast forward four years, and and the defending world champions couldn’t even get past the group stage. They were humiliated by the Netherlands led by Robin Van Persie before Chile eventually ended their World Cup Dreams.
Out of all the possible reasons given for their horrendous performance, one was their resistance to blood in more youngsters. Every player, as highly decorated as possible, one day needs to be replaced. As quoted by Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change.” And to their credit, the Portuguese team is working actively towards these changes.
We have already spoken about the rising stars that could take the centre-stage. But what’s more encouraging for the youngsters is the presence of an experienced set of players can simultaneously guide them.
Names like Pepe, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Cristiano Ronaldo not only add to the team directly but also help in securing the future by guiding the upcoming talents. While a team like Germany is completely made up of youngsters, Chile is guilty of not giving new faces enough opportunity. Portugal, on the other hand, have seemingly struck a good balance in this regard, something which might prove decisive.
#2 In-form players
It is often seen in football that players who are in good form are selected ahead of ones that carry a big name. That’s because a player, who has consistently performed well throughout the season, has the confidence that he can single-handedly change the game when his team needs him to. For in a game of football, mental strength is as important as physical.
Luckily for the Fernando Santos, his team is made up of players who were in exhilarating form and are hungry for some more silverware. Bernardo Silva and Joao Moutinho were part fo the Monaco side that ended PSG’s league dominance while Raphael Guerrero helped Dortmund end their DFB Pokal final’s jinx with a 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt.
Portugal’s unsung hero, Rui Patricio finally got a much-deserved recognition in form of a 12th place finish in 2017 Ballon d'Or list and the man whom Cristiano Ronaldo calls his successor, Andre Silva finished the season as one of the top scorers in Primeira Liga. Meanwhile, in Turkey, Ricardo Quaresma successfully fulfilled his aim of winning the league with Besiktas.
There is one major name left to discuss. And to do justice with the impact he can have on the tournament, the entire next page is required.
#1 The best is at his best
Is it mere coincidence that Selecção das Quinas never won an international trophy with ‘Black Panther’ Eusebio. Nor did it happen under the Luis Figo led Golden generation, that had names like Rui Costa, Deco and Fernando Couto amongst their rank. Rather it happened under the leadership of the supercilious Cristiano Ronaldo who many feel is guilty of considering himself the greatest footballer of all time.
Perhaps a glance at the last two years of his footballing career could make half of the world believe that he might actually be what he thinks he is. Since May of 2016, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or and the Champions League (twice), while top scoring in it for the fifth consecutive season. He also smashed Jimmy Greaves’ record of 366 goals across Europe’s top five leagues, among a host of other achievements.
But the one that he cherishes the most, is Portugal's Euro 2016 victory. A victory that added his name in history books alongside legends like Beckenbauer, Platini, Van Basten and Zidane.
What followed is, even more, hunger. Hunger to achieve more for his country. Ronaldo, who ended an eventful season in the best way possible, could have easily asked for some rest during this period. Instead, he is willing to put his body on the line, knowing that an injury at this stage of his career can cause fatal damage. Why? To fulfil his hunger! Hunger to prove each and every person that has ever watched him play that he is what he considers himself.
The Ronaldo that leads Portugal in Confed Cup isn’t the fastest, nor does he possess his jaw-dropping dribbling skills. But he has now turned into a predator, who could turn the game on his own with some vital goals at crucial moments. Calling his form remarkable would be an understatement. All one could say is if Ronaldo could replicate this form on the pitches of Russia, Portugal are practically unstoppable.