Portugal continue on blessed Euro path but look well equipped for tougher tests to come

Dave Tickner
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate against Turkey at Euro 2024
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate against Turkey at Euro 2024

Portugal have enjoyed a blessed path through Euro 2024 from the moment the draw was made for the qualification stage.

But there’s no denying they’ve made the absolute most of it, and there remain all manner of reasons to believe they can continue to ride this wave all the way to Berlin on July 14.

Roberto Martinez’s side were handed the kindest of groups in the qualification stage, but then promptly won 10 games out of 10. They were handed the kindest of groups in the finals, and have now guaranteed themselves top spot in it after back-to-back wins. It is perhaps the most clinical and clear example yet of only being able to beat what is in front of you.

And there are even signs within these wins of a team growing into the tournament. The more traditional way for Portugal to do that is to draw and draw and draw and draw until suddenly they’ve got the trophy in their hands while a continent looks on sheepish and confused.

This team has taken a different approach. It contains perhaps a touch less housery but it’s probably more likely to deliver consistent results. Martinez could never get Belgium’s Golden Generation to a major tournament title, but there’s every indication he could do it with Portugal’s.

He does deserve credit, too. His has been a perplexing managerial career of consistent failing upwards, but he’s getting an awful lot right with the way he’s got this awesomely talented Portugal squad purring.

Even within these two games he has identified errors and corrected course. The back three didn’t quite work in a game against Czechia where Portugal rather got out of jail. Reverting to a back four here there was far better balance and cohesion even before the goals began to flow.

The attacking play was crisper and more precise, while Pepe rolled back the years in wonderful style at the back alongside the more understandable, less passage-of-time-defyingly absurd quiet excellence of Ruben Dias.

It’s reassuring in many ways to see that a manager with a starkly mediocre Premier League record can make sufficiently bold adjustments to his talent-stacked team to get a significantly improved performance despite the satisfactory nature of results.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva were all far more potent and involved in Portugal’s tweaked shape. Rafael Leao was a disappointment, but even here his second consecutive booking for drearily blatant dives ended up working out for Portugal. He now misses a dead rubber and returns for the knockouts with his slate wiped clean.

Yes, this was a day when pretty much everything went entirely to plan for Portugal even when it didn’t.

Turkey, though. Good grief. For all Portugal’s excellence, there’s no point pretending they weren’t aided and abetted by a Turkish performance verging on self-sabotage.

The second and third goals were both calamitous and nor were they isolated moments in which Turkey were the architects of their own downfall.

The own goal that gave Portugal a two-goal cushion was achieved under so little pressure that the global-feed director had already made the standard cut to Cristiano Ronaldo Having A Strop After A Misplaced Pass.

The third goal had slightly more Portuguese involvement, but not much. Ronaldo’s run was a smart and well-timed one, but the whole thing opened up when one Turkey defender missed his kick and another simply fell over to leave Bruno Fernandes entirely unmarked in the centre.

That Turkish disaster was far less surprising than Ronaldo taking the correct but markedly unselfish option of squaring to Fernandes for an easy finish when his own shooting chance was an entirely presentable one.

Turkey had looked so good in the opening game against Georgia, but this was a sad return to their efforts of three years ago when they so badly let down an entire continent’s worth of dark horse whispering hipsters in 2004 Bursaspor shirts.

At some point in a campaign that since its start has now yielded 12 wins from 12 things will surely get tougher for Portugal. They sort of have to.

But there seems no reason that they should fear it.