Can Ronaldo Lead Portugal to an Unlikely Victory?

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the biggest names in football, but just like Lionel Messi, he’s never won the World Cup. At 32 years of age, Russia 2018 will probably be his last chance to win the biggest prize in football.

While Portugal are hardly favourites going into the competition due to an inconsistent qualifying campaign, they did win the 2016 European Championships. Portugal will face Spain, Morocco, and Iran in a competitive Group B, with Ronaldo’s Portugal expected to progress to the knockout stages along with their Iberian cousins.

Ronaldo has won more than his fair share of titles for his club side Real Madrid, including the recent 2017/18 Champions League. In fact, Real Madrid have won four of the last five Champions League titles, with Ronaldo also managing to win the biggest prize in European club football when he played for Manchester United back in 2007/08.

While Ronaldo has not won La Liga as often as Messi, he has won multiple league and cup titles with both Real Madrid and Manchester United. His list of personal achievements is just as large, with five FIFA Ballon d’Or awards and four UEFA best player in Europe awards.

Portugal’s unlikely Euro 2016 glory was a surprise to many, with the team always labelled as underachievers on the international stage. If Portugal and Ronaldo are ever going to reach the coveted number one spot, this may be their biggest opportunity. While they aren’t in the same league as Germany or Brazil when it comes to betting odds, with Ronaldo on board, anything is possible.

Portugal’s Form Going Into Russia 2018

Portugal only just qualified for this year’s World Cup, with the team topping Group B by virtue of goal difference. Portugal ended the campaign level on points with Switzerland, with both teams winning nine and losing one of their 10 games. While Portugal were able to avoid a play-off due to goal difference, Switzerland managed to secure a World Cup spot after beating Northern Ireland over two legs.

Despite their inconsistent form during qualifying, Portugal have already shown the world that they’re capable of performing under pressure by beating France at the Euro 2016 Final. This will give them a lot of confidence going into Russia 2018, with Ronaldo managing to do what Messi hasn’t by winning a major international tournament. Their recent form hasn’t been so good, however, with Portugal recently squandering a 2-0 lead against Tunisia to finish with a 2-2 draw in a lead-up friendly.

The Portugal Squad

Portugal have a solid group of players, with coach Fernando Santos recently naming his 23-man squad for Russia 2018. Sporting’s Rui Patricio is likely to be the number one goalkeeper, with Beto and Anthony Lopes acting as backup. Portugal’s defence is both ageing and highly experienced, with seasoned players such as Pepe, Jose Fonte, and Bruno Alves having amassed 215 caps between them.

While there are some younger defenders to make up the numbers, they’re unlikely to be used in big games unless there are injuries. Unlike the defence, Portugal’s midfield is relatively young and inexperienced, including Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Sporting’s William Carvalho. While Joao Moutinho from Monaco will be there to guide the young players, this inexperience in the middle of the park may be exploited by other teams. Other midfield talent includes Joao Mario, Adrien Silva, Manuel Fernandes, and Bruno Fernandes.

As you’d expect, Cristiano Ronaldo picks himself in Portugal’s attacking line-up, with the only question being who will join him. Fellow veteran Ricardo Quaresma and AC Milan’s Andre Silva have been included for their experience more than their current form, with PSG youngster Goncalo Guedes and Sporting’s Gelson Martins adding some youth to the frontline. For anyone who thinks Portugal is all about Ronaldo, remember that he went off injured in the first half of the Euro 2016 Final against France.

The Competition

Portugal find themselves in Group B of the World Cup, a reasonably competitive group that includes Spain, Morocco, and Iran. While the two Iberian teams should progress to the knockout stages without too much drama, Morocco were one of the most impressive teams during African qualifying and will be keen to impress after an absence of 20 years from the World Cup stage. The biggest question from this group will be whether Spain or Portugal take the top spot, something which could be significant during the next round.

Once Portugal make it past the Group stage, like they’re almost guaranteed to do, they will face much more serious competition. Germany and Brazil are the two favourites at Russia 2018, with other teams to watch out for including Spain, France, Belgium, Argentina, Uruguay, England, and Croatia. While Portugal are more than just Ronaldo, CR7 will need to be in top form if they’re going to make a dent beyond the Quarter-finals.