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Can Ronaldo lead Portugal to a second title at Euro 2024?

By primenewsghana
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It only took six short years for the Euro 2016 champions Portugal to hit rock bottom at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The devastating defeat to Morocco in the World Cup quarterfinal left them with the unenviable record of just one win in the knockout stages of a major competition since that spectacular Euro 2016 triumph.

In the aftermath of their World Cup exit, coach Fernando Santos called time on his stint with the national team.

As the tears streamed down Cristiano Ronaldo’s face as he walked down the player’s tunnel in Qatar, you felt as though he would follow suit.

Santos’s final act as Portugal manager – even before his side fell to Morocco at the quarterfinal stage – had seen him drop Ronaldo from the starting lineup for each of Portugal’s knockout matches at the Qatar World Cup. That his replacement, Goncalo Ramo, went on to score a hat-trick against Switzerland in the round of 16 felt like the final nail in the coffin of the superstar’s long and illustrious international career.

But it hasn’t proved to be the final act with the now 39-year-old Ronaldo set to play in a record sixth European football championship at Euro 2024 in Germany.

One of the first things Roberto Martinez is reported to have done after taking over as Portugal manager was to meet every member of the 26-man side that had been picked for the World Cup in Qatar. All of them, Ronaldo included, expressed their desire to continue with the national team.

Of those 26 players, 21 have been named in Martinez’s squad for Germany. Among them is 41-year-old defender Pepe, who’s been picked more for his importance off the pitch than on it.

“Pepe’s role in the locker room is important, the way he represents the national team shirt,” Martinez said. “When he is fit, he is a very important player. We have a very interesting dressing room because we have players from different generations.

We have a good mix of experience and youngsters. It’s a list of 26 players that will give a good response.”

A new beginning

While the personnel change has been minimal, the energy emanating from the team is hugely different to what it was in Qatar.

A strong qualification campaign has played a role in this – albeit against weak opposition.

Portugal went unbeaten across their 10 Euro 2024 qualifiers, scoring the most goals, 36, of any team and conceding the fewest, two.

Martinez isn’t lacking for firepower in a front line that includes players of the pedigree of Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, Goncalo Ramos, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao. But crucially, he has opted to remain with Portugal’s most famous player, Ronaldo, as the talisman of the attack.

Since Martinez took over in January 2023, Ronaldo has started 10 games out of a possible 12 matches, only missing the other two fixtures due to suspension and load management protocols.

The former Real Madrid superstar’s impressive 10 goals in Euro 2024 qualification put him second on the goalscoring charts behind only Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku.

Questions remain

When assessing Portugal’s chances at Euro 2024, the only caveat is that the highest-ranked team in Portugal’s qualification group was Slovakia at world number 48, making any prospective form evaluation against the top contenders a difficult exercise.

At the Euro 2024 group stage, they will face a much sterner test with matches against the Czech Republic, ranked 36, Poland, ranked 28, and Turkey, ranked 40.

After a year in Saudi Arabia with Al Nassr, all eyes will be transfixed on Ronaldo and how well he will fare against top-ranked opposition upon his return to Europe’s premier nations competition.

Martinez’s debut tournament with Portugal at Euro 2024 is of equal intrigue.

During his time as Belgium boss, Martinez guided the team to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup – the highest in their history.

In Euro 2020, Belgium coincidentally knocked out Portugal in the round of 16 but suffered a quarterfinal exit at the hands of eventual winners Italy. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was the lowest point of Martinez’s reign, with the Belgians crashing out at the group stage.

The jury is still out on Martinez’s Belgium tenure and whether or not he underachieved with them. But the one thing he did successfully do with the national side was instill a winning mentality; the Spaniard helped transform Belgium’s reputation from plucky underdogs to serious contenders.

Martinez now finds himself facing a similar task with his current team at Euro 2024.

Many commentators believe the time has come for Portugal to shed the “dark horse” tag they have saddled themselves with in major tournaments. This established – and talent-stacked – squad enters Euro 2024 with the players to win it all but still faces questions about whether they possess the necessary self-belief that was characteristic of the victorious Euro 2016 Portugal side.

⚽ Portugal – Key Euros Stats ⚽

Euro appearances: 18
Euro titles: 1
Best finish: Winners (2016)
Euros record: W19 D10 L10
Goals scored: 56
Biggest win: 3-0 (most recent vs Hungary in Euro 2020)
Player to watch: Bruno Fernandes
World ranking: 6th
Team nickname: Os Navegadores (The Navigators)
Group fixtures:

  • June 18: Portugal vs Czech Republic (Leipzig Stadium, Leipzig, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)
  • June 22: Turkey vs Portugal (BVB Stadion, Dortmund, 6pm local/16:00 GMT)
  • June 26: Georgia vs Portugal (Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)