Five things to watch from Portugal at Euro 2016
Lisbon: Five things on Portugal ahead of the European Championship finals where Cristiano Ronaldo’s team start in Group F against Austria, Iceland and Hungary.
Another Ronaldo record
Cristiano Ronaldo already holds the record for total goals in European Championships history including qualifiers, but is just three off Michel Platini’s record of nine in the finals.
Moreover, having struck in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Ronaldo can become the first man to score in four separate Euros.
Emerging young talent
Ronaldo has been the star to straddle Portugal’s old golden generation of Luis Figo and Rui Costa — who consistently failed to deliver on their potential at international tournaments — and a new group of young talent who finished runners-up at last year’s under-21 European Championship finals.
William Carvalho of Sporting Lisbon and Monaco’s Bernardo Silva earned rave reviews for their performances after a famous 5-0 thrashing of Germany in the semi-finals of that tournament. Eighteen-year-old Renato Sanches starred in the Champions League for Benfica this season and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Even for a top seed Portugal landed a plumb draw along with tournament debutants Iceland, Hungary — in their first major tournament since 1986 — and a promising but inexperienced Austria in Group F.
However, presuming Ronaldo can fire his country to the top of the Group, the likelihood of facing Italy or Belgium in the last-16 will prove a much tougher task.
It is understandable that Portugal have become reliant on Ronaldo’s goals over the past 12 years since he first made his name on home soil in Euro 2004 to become undoubtedly one of the best two players in the world over the past decade.
However, the lack of back-up to the Real Madrid star when it comes to scoring goals has blighted Portugal’s quest for Euros glory as they have just fallen short with an appearance in the final, quarter-finals and semi-finals in the last three editions of the competition.
Indeed, the only other striker called-up by coach Fernando Santos for their warm-up friendlies in March was Lille’s Eder, who has managed just one goal in 23 caps for his country.
In contrast to an exciting array of young midfielders, the heart of Portugal’s defence is largely unchanged from tournaments gone by.
Real Madrid’s Pepe and Fenerbahce’s Bruno Alves are both well into their thirties and will be backed-up by 37-year-old veteran Ricardo Carvalho.
Whilst their experience will be vital, a lack of pace at the back could prove deadly to Portugal’s chances of reaching the latter stages.