The Road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Reigning European champions Portugal were drawn in the same qualifying group as Switzerland, and the pair battled it out until the final game for top spot. Going into the last game at home against the Swiss, the Portuguese needed to win to claim automatic qualification, having suffered an opening game defeat away in Basle (and despite going on to win all the qualifying games that followed). The outcome was decided when Portugal won 2-0 in Lisbon, putting them ahead of the Swiss on goal difference.
Unsurprisingly, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo played a significant part in the team’s qualification success, scoring almost half of Portugal’s goals – 15 out of 32.
As one of the greatest players of his or any other generation, Cristiano Ronaldo will be massively in the spotlight at Russia 2018. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is Portugal’s most capped player (he’s approaching 150 international appearances and counting) and is the nation’s top scorer (currently 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 2004 European Championship final to Greece. Even during Portugal’s win at France 2016, Ronaldo was forced off in the final with a first-half injury, meaning he faced the agony of having to urge his team on from the sidelines. He still lifted the trophy as team captain, however, and added the European Championship accolade to his lengthy list of club honors to his name, including four UEFA Champions League titles (three with Real and one with Manchester United) and numerous individual scoring records.
In addition to Ronaldo, Portugal boast other talent in the ranks, including Andre Silva, 22, an upcoming star who scored nine times during qualifying. In the summer of 2017, Silva moved to Milan for a fee of €38 million ($47 million).
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 ($50 million).
Between the goalposts, Portugal have the reliable Sporting keeper Rui Patricio, 30, 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 Championship title 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.
Perhaps surprisingly, Portugal have reached the World Cup Finals a modest 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 semi-final, 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.