It hurts me to type this, but Portugal is going into their last World Cup with their best-ever player, Cristiano Ronaldo. It feels like the end of an era, but the start of a new age.
It is worth a mention that Portugal hasn’t had much success at the World Cup since Ronaldo debuted. Uruguay knocked them out of the round of sixteen in 2018 and they failed to make it out of the group stage entirely in 2014. They haven’t been close to sniffing the last four since 2006, a Cup where a 21-year-old Ronaldo only scored one goal (though he also scored the deciding penalty kick to send them to the semis).
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) October 31, 2022
Portugal drew into Group H with Uruguay, Ghana, and South Korea, which isn’t an easy group. That said, Portugal should be able to move on. Whether it’s in first or second place may be the more significant question to ask.
Portugal has a lot of scoring options beyond Ronaldo
Portugal, like many other countries, has been bitten by the injury bug. Forwards Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto will all miss the World Cup due to injury, while defender Pepe is rehabbing from an injury and is a big question mark for Qatar. There are also questions about who manager Fernando Santos will start, as he seems to favor starting Danilo Periera and William Carvalho while the supporters don’t seem too fond of it. But who will step up for this Portuguese side?
— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) November 5, 2022
Several candidates fit into that role. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva has been one of the best Portuguese players in the world for the last couple of years. Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, who scored in the World Cup playoff against North Macedonia, figures to be a key piece. Add in AC Milan’s Rafa Leão and Atletico Madrid’s João Felix, and Portugal has no shortage of attacking options. Ronaldo can’t do it all, but for the first time he might not even need to be his country’s top scorer.
Portugal scored seven goals in four games in the 2018 World Cup, and Ronaldo was responsible for four of them. It is time other players step up for Portugal and see how far it can take them. They certainly have the talent to compete among the elite, but can they showcase it for 90 minutes?
A lot of questions in the midfield
Injuries have forced the Portuguese coaching staff to make some big changes, and the midfield especially has the most questions. Fernándes will start no matter what, but who else? There are several options, most notably Ruben Neves, William Carvalho, and Vitinha. Santos often plays with a 4-3-3 formation, so the midfield could really be a toss-up.
RONALDO SETS UP FERNANDES!
PORTUGAL LEAD OVER NORTH MACEDONIA 🇵🇹 pic.twitter.com/VzJHLIZE5D
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 29, 2022
Up top, no questions asked. It’ll be Ronaldo as the center forward. Silva will start to the right of Ronaldo. Joao Felix isn’t at the level to be a starter, but who knows? Santos could surprise us. Felix has a slight possibility of starting on the left, but I like Leão. He has an unreal pace and could be as fast as The Flash. Overall, depending on the midfield, Portugal could go more defensive with Neves or maybe choose to attack. The midfield is the unpredictable part of the squad, but overall this should be an excellent eleven for Portugal.
Even if he doesn’t have that much of an impact on Portugal’s fortunes, the World Cup needs a CR7 vs Messi final. It’d be the most-watched sporting event in history. A legacy maker for some fans and a heartbreaker for others. The game vs. Uruguay will be a very determining factor, with Portugal in a good spot to make the semifinals if they can finish first in the group. But do they have enough to win the World Cup?
I think so, but I’m a CR7 type of guy, anyway.