Euro 2020: Reigning champions Portugal even stronger than five years ago | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 17.06.2021

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Euro 2020: Reigning champions Portugal even stronger than five years ago

With added depth and quality compared to their title run five years ago, Portugal are far from underdogs. They are among the favorites to win Euro 2020, but have to first navigate their way out of Group F.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates winning the UEFA Nations league in 2019

Cristiano Ronaldo is aiming to become international football's all-time leading scorer

Portugal are no strangers to groups of death.

At Euro 2012, they had to contend with the Netherlands, Denmark, and a Germany team that beat them 1-0. Two years later at the World Cup in Brazil, they were again drawn against Joachim Löw's eventual champions and were on the receiving end of a 4-0 drubbing in their opening match.

A comparatively straight-forward set of first-round opponents followed at Euro 2016, yet the Portuguese still only scraped through in third place behind Hungary and Iceland, drawing all three of their group games.

What followed, of course, was a surprise title, as they beat hosts France in the final. Five years on from that triumph in Paris and Portugal are back in the group of death along with France, Hungary and Germany.

A convincing, albeit late, 3-0 win over Hungary has given them a perfect start. Next up, Germany in Munich on Saturday evening.

In 18 matches against their upcoming opponents, Portugal have won just three, and have lost the last four meetings. It's not a great omen, but Portugal have no need to fear the past this time around.

They began the postponed Euro 2020 as reigning champions, and Fernando Santos' side has only got better.

The Navigators spread out across the continent

The Portugal national team's nickname Os Navegadores, the Navigators, is a play on their nation's historical sea-faring exploits. And their current crop of globetrotters certainly live up to that. In the past five years, Cristiano Ronaldo and his supporting cast could be found at top clubs all across Europe.

Portugal have always had a glut of quality in creative midfield positions but have long struggled to fill the striker position. While an ageing Ronaldo may now lay claim to that role, his side finally have other options to either partner their captain or come off the bench.

Bruno Fernandes enjoyed an excellent season for Premier League runners-up Manchester United, notching up 28 goals and 17 assists across all competitions. The 26-year-old could be key in taking the creative burden off Ronaldo, even if the playmaker has so far not been able to replicate that form for the national team and at times looked exhausted in the season run-in. 

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes during the UEFA Europa League semifinal

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes finished the season with 28 goals and 17 assists

But if Portugal are looking for a traditional, out-and-out striker, Andre Silva is coming off a barnstorming season with Eintracht Frankfurt, breaking the club record for goals scored in a Bundesliga season with 28 in 32 games. The majority have come after the turn of the year, so Silva has hit top form in time for the tournament. 

However, coach Santos placed his trust in Diogo Jota against Hungary. The versatile forward is coming off an injury-riddled but efficient first season for Liverpool in which he scored 9 goals in 19 league outings. 

Ronaldo chasing the all-time scoring record 

Not that Ronaldo is finished just yet.

He missed out on most of the action in Portugal's Euro 2016 final victory against France, coming off with a knee injury just 25 minutes in. The captain then led from the sidelines, showing his eagerness to claim the trophy. Ronaldo is obsessed with winning and other members of the squad are developing a taste for it too. 

Ronaldo and coach Fernando Santos gesture on the touchline during the Euro 2016 Final match between Portugal and France

Ronaldo lasted just 25 minutes in Portugal's Euro 2016 final victory, and spent the night coaching from the sidelines

At 36, he's no spring chicken and has endured a disappointing season with Juventus, getting knocked out of the Champions League by Porto and losing their Serie A crown to Inter Milan. Nevertheless, Ronaldo still finished the season as league top scorer with 29 goals, which proves that adjectives like "disappointing" are always relative.

He goes into Saturday's game against Germany just three goals short of Iranian Ali Daei's all-time scoring record in international football (109 goals between 1993 and 2006). Earlier this week, he set the all-time mark for goals scored at a European Championship.

For a man notably keen on personal accolades, there is certainly ample added motivation for Ronaldo to become the tournament's top scorer.

A team of title winners 

Portugal backed up their Euro 2016 success by winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019. Since then, key players across the squad have continued to collect titles and fostered a winning mentality. 

A key Portuguese trio helped Manchester City to the Premier League title, and to the Champions League final. Center-back Ruben Dias became the first defender in 32 years to claim the English Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award. Joao Cancelo has been a versatile performer at both right- and left-back and Bernardo Silva played a quietly solid season further up the pitch. 

Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva celebrate with the Premier League Trophy

Man City trio Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva won the Premier League

In Spain, 21-year-old Joao Felix contributed seven goals as Atletico Madrid won La Liga, while in France, Jose Fonte and Bayern Munich reject Renato Sanches won a surprise league title with Lille ahead of serial winners PSG. Fonte in particular deserves credit for helping the champions keep the meanest defense of Ligue 1.

Lastly, Raphael Guerreiro lifted the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund while also pitching in with five goals and 11 assists in 27 Bundesliga matches.

Portugal have added depth, quality and a winning ethos to their squad like few other reigning champions ever have. They went into this tournament in markedly better shape than when they won it five years ago and have a genuine chance of becoming only the second nation after Spain to secure back-to-back European Championships.