Cristiano Ronaldo loves the big stage and there is none more significant than the World Cup. But unlike the past few editions, he comes into the tournament without a bagful of goals and no new trophies on his shelf.
Portugal’s form too mirrors its talisman. The Iberian nation had to slug it out through the qualifiers (beating Turkey and North Macedonia) after having finished second in its group behind Serbia. The ongoing Nations League campaign too hasn’t been flawless, with defeats rolling in against Switzerland and Spain in recent months.
Despite all that, Portugal comes into the Qatar World Cup with its golden generation mostly at the zenith of its powers, as seen from the squad announced on Thursday.
Starting with strengths, Portugal has one of the best wing-back duos in the World Cup – Joao Cancelo and Nuno Mendes. The Manchester City right-back is a creative force with inventive passing, while PSG’s Mendes provides energy and intensity down the left flank. Santos also has the luxury of having Diogo Dalot and Raphael Guerrero to call upon to back up this dup.
Add to that City’s centre-back Ruben Dias and either Pepe and David Carmo, and Portugal has a backline that can challenge any in Qatar.
The goalkeeping contingent provides a mixed impression. Veteran Rui Patricio, who played a huge role in the 2016 Euro win, seems to have his best days behind him, while Porto’s Diogo Costa might lack the experience of the big stage.
The Manchester duo of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva will be taking up the mantle of creative duties from the midfield, while Vitinha and Ruben Neves will provide stability down the centre.
Ronaldo’s lack of form would be something Santos will choose to overlook, considering how the 37-year-old has led the line for his national side over the years. Unfortunately for Portugal, Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto, two forwards who could have provided his side with pace and verve upfront, will be absent through injuries.
Portugal still has options in the form of Joao Felix, Raphael Leao and Andre Silva. But it will all depend on how well Ronaldo elevates his game at what could be his last World Cup and how Santos fits his resources around the Manchester United forward.