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For Portugal, what happened in the group stage must stay in the group stage

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Portugal were supposed to top a relatively easy EURO 2016 group and be full of confidence heading into the next round, but international football rarely goes to plan.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Source: AAP



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In the end Portugal just squeezed through as one of the best third-placed teams and with three performances that have left the country’s football-loving public immensely frustrated.

While failing to win a game in the group stage is a shock, the team’s standard of play in France shouldn’t be a complete surprise.



The Portuguese may have topped their qualifying group, but they never won a game by more than a goal, and it was in a section that contained the quite disappointing Denmark and Serbia.

Yet there was also cause for optimism, as another sparkling generation of talent begins to mature.

And herein lies the ultimate problem for coach Fernando Santos – managing the transition from the Cristiano Ronaldo generation to the new young guns.

Some of the emerging talents are beginning to cement their first team places at this tournament.

Joao Mario was excellent in the 3-3 draw with Hungary, providing the cross for Ronaldo’s sublime goal, as well as showing off his technical capacity.





While substituted in that contest, Andre Gomes had previously showed what a magnificent midfielder he can be and justified Juventus’s interest in the Valencia player’s services.

Others have found it harder to get an opportunity. In his very short time on the pitch so far, new Bayern Munich signing Renato Sanches demonstrated his immense ability and must be staking a claim for a starting spot – even if it’s at the expense of the usually reliable Joao Moutinho.

There are other young talents that are yet to feature heavily like Rafa Silva and Cedric Soares.

Instead Santos is counting on the older heads like Pepe, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and, of course, Ronaldo, whom so much depends on, to see them through.

For a number of years now the Portuguese team have been geared towards getting the best out of Ronaldo, as its believed this is their best chance of success.

Having played together for so long, it makes sense that Pepe, Nani and Quaresma are given the opportunity to link up with the Real Madrid and Portugal talisman.



But the idea that Ronaldo firing is Portugal’s best chance of success may no longer be as true as it once was.
Setting up the side to suit the three-time world player of the year may be what is holding the team as a whole, particularly the younger talents, back.

Portugal need to play to their strengths, even if that means less crosses into the box to take advantage of Ronaldo’s heading ability and more intricate moves in the build-up and the final third.

There’s no doubt that the likes of Joao Mario, Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches have the ability to unpick defences with their technical ability.

It may be too late to radically alter Portugal’s setup for this tournament, but at least some minor changes can be made to allow the others, not just Ronaldo, to flourish.

After a difficult first round at the EURO, Portugal have a chance to regroup and refocus.

Luckily for them, major tournament history suggests that what happens in the group stage, stays in the group stage.


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3 min read
Published 23 June 2016 at 12:32pm
By Vitor Sobral
Source: SBS