The Road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup
The current European champions were grouped with Switzerland and competed with the Swiss for top spot, with automatic qualification going down to the final game between the pair. The outcome was decided when Portugal won 2-0 at home, moving into first place and reversing an earlier 1-0 defeat to the Swiss.
Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo contributed greatly to the team’s qualification success, scoring almost half of Portugal’s goals – 15 out of 32.
Undoubtedly Cristiano Ronaldo. For many years he’s been the team’s key player, and is both Portugal’s most capped player (147 international appearances) and the nation’s top scorer (79 goals).
Up until Euro 2016, Ronaldo appeared destined not to win major honors with his national team, having come close on numerous occasions, including losing in the 2002 European final to Greece. During Portugal’s win at France 2016, Ronaldo was forced off with a first-half injury.
In addition to Ronaldo, Portugal boast other talent in the ranks, including Andre Silva, an upcoming star who scored nine times during qualifying. In the summer of 2017, Silva moved to Milan for a fee of €38 million. He’s scored 11 goals in 17 senior international matches– not bad for a 21-year-old.
Another prominent player is 23-year-old right-sided midfielder Bernardo Silva. A product of Benfica’s academy, Silva starred for Monaco before moving to Manchester City for €40 million.
Between the goalposts, Portugal have the reliable Sporting keeper Rui Patricio, who has been a near ever-present for the team for a number of years. Among other experienced players, Bruno Alves and Pepe are worth mentioning.
Portugal are led by the experienced Fernando Santos, who won the European championships with the team. His way of setting up the team is often described as pragmatic, and the European champions will be expected to emphasize defense and counterattacks at the World Cup.
Santos is popular outside of Portugal as well, especially in Greece, where he coached club teams AEK, Panathinaikos, and PAOK, as well as the national team. It was Santos who led the Greece to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the team reached the Round of 16 and lost to Costa Rica on penalties.
Portugal have reached the World Cup Finals six times, and their best result was third place in 1966, when the great Eusebio was the team’s captain. After winning the Ballon d’Or award in 1965, the continent’s best footballer scored nine goals in England, winning the Golden Boot for the World Cup’s top scorer. In the semifinal, the “Brazilians of Europe” lost to the host team 2-1, but in the third place match beat the Soviet Union 2-1, scoring the winner in the 89th minute.
At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Portugal again made it to the semi-finals but lost to France. The only goal in the game was a penalty converted by Zinedine Zidane on 32 minutes. Portugal subsequently lost 3-1 to Germany in the third place match.