Euro 2020 Betting: Portugal price well worth another look
For the second of his ante-post bets, Jamie Pacheco considers why a strong squad, a Nations League win and ability to handle pressure, means Portugal look big...
Last time out
Portugal are 20.00 to win Euro 2020. Many think Portugal's win last time out was just a total fluke. Somewhat similar to those wins of Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004), also in the Euros, it was the story of a resilient side playing decent football over a short period of time until they were 'last man standing'. After all, Portugal only won one match out of seven in 90 minutes.
They drew all three group games, won the Last 16 match against Croatia with a 117th-minute goal, beat Poland on penalties and France in extra-time. Their only win was the 2-0 against Wales in the semis. And lest we forget, a late, late winner by Iceland over Austria (which they didn't even need) in the last round of matches in the Group Stages turned the whole draw on its head. Portugal avoided a run made up of England, France and Germany in the first three knockout games. Fortunate? Well, yes but...
You can, of course, take a very different view. That it wasn't a vintage side but rather one who was very hard to beat. They may not have won many, but they certainly didn't lose any, either.
They showed guts and stamina to beat Croatia late on and that they were perfectly entitled to play for penalties against Poland. After all, Portugal have been blessed with nothing if not good technical players over the years, including defenders, so it's hardly rocket science that they should be decent from the spot.
We digress. They were good value for their win over Wales and beat red- hot favourites France in their own backyard, minus their injured skipper and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. Were they really not deserving of their win?
Nations League no fluke, either
As per usual, they were slow out of the blocks in qualifying. Back-to-back home draws against the Ukraine and Serbia first up were disappointing results but as we all know, that's 'hangovers' for you. They bounced back well to beat Serbia 4-2 away and won four of their five remaining games, the anomaly being a 2-1 loss in the Ukraine. It happens, but in the end, they qualified pretty comfortably, albeit as runners-up to the Ukraine.
A better measure of where they're at is that they won the top division of the inaugural Nations League. It may not have captured the full imagination of all European football fans to start with but just about every side fielded their best players in it in the end. England's 3-2 win over Spain over in Group 4 is considered one of their best-ever performances in a competitive away match.
Portugal got the better of Italy and Poland to top their group, beat Switzerland 3-1 in the semis thanks to a Ronaldo hat-trick and played their usual brand of pragmatic football to see off the Netherlands in the final, 1-0. And yes, the Final Four was staged on Portuguese soil, but that's not their fault. By the way, their Nations League Group Stage matches were all played without Ronaldo featuring so it shows they can survive without him, if necessary.
So just to recap: the side who won the last two major European tournaments is a 20.00 chance to win next year's Euros. You read that right.
More options in the squad than in 2016
Is their squad better now than in 2016? I think it is.
Just looking at the XI that started that night at the Stade France against the hosts I'd point out the following: Renato Sanches' career has completely stalled from the moment he left Benfica that summer and the same happened when fellow midfielder Adrien Silva left the comfort zone of Sporting Lisbon for Leicester. By then, Nani was relying on class and experience rather than form and spark and Jose Fonte's club career before and after that big night didn't suggest he was going to be an integral part of a European Championship-winning side.
The keeper's the same (Rui Patricio), the defence is of a similar standard nowadays to that on the night but it's in midfield that there's a big marked improvement in resources.
William Carvalho is still there, as are Joao Moutinho (below), Andre Gomes and Danilo, but the emergence of the quite brilliant Bruno Fernandes and the continued progress of Bernardo Silva, penciled in as David Silva's natural successor at Manchester City no less, gives them two excellent additional options in key positions. All of those different options mean Fernando Santos can play a horses-for-courses approach or give a couple of regular starts players a 'breather' in the second match if necessary.
Then there's Joao Felix. The 20-year old has had a season at Atletico Madrid somewhat typical of a youngster making a big-money move to a bigger and tougher league: six goals in 28 appearances for Atletico certainly show he hasn't had it all his own way. But the fact he's always been picked suggests it's all just part of the natural learning curve and he's done as well as what could be expected. If anything, the one-year postponement of Euro 2020 (21) may in this regard play into his hands. An extra year of La Liga and Champions League football under his belt will surely make him a more complete player come next July.
The flipside of that is of course, Ronaldo. Time waits for no-one and you'll have a hard time arguing that at 36 Ronaldo will be in better shape than he is at 35. But does he seem like a man you want to be writing off?
Group F- Group of the terminally ill
The fly in the ointment is their Group. They obviously wouldn't be that price if they'd been drawn in any other Group. And they probably wouldn't be that price if they'd been drawn against anyone other than France and Germany. The fourth team in the Group is unknown at the moment because they'll come from the Play-Offs but whoever it is, they'll be big outsiders against Portugal, who absolutely have to beat them. And may well need to do so quite convincingly as goal difference may well come into it.
Even more so because it's a real possibility that they may have to progress to the knock-out stages courtesy of being one of the four third-best placed teams. It's bad enough being drawn against Germany; it's even worse when you have to play them at the Allianz Arena in Munich. So, you'd think a point there is as good as it might get for them, while their match against France in Budapest will again see them as outsiders, but a draw there may well be the most likely result. So, you can see why anything other than a win in their other match would be disastrous.
In this regard, I think the schedule has favoured Portugal. That's the game they play first, and an early win will have them in the driving seat while France and Germany lock horns in the other match. Assuming Portugal win that first game and it will be one of France or Germany (or both, if they draw amongst them) who are playing catch-up and needing to force the issue when they play Fernando Santos' men.
I have Portugal slated down for four points and we'll have to wait and see if that's enough. What I don't necessarily buy is that it puts them up against it by facing one of the Group winners in the next round. For three reasons.
One: you never know how things may pan out elsewhere and an upset somewhere could mean a not-so-tough opponent anyway.
Two: in a competition like this, you've got to be prepared for whoever comes your way and you don't deserve to win it if you don't have what it takes to get past whoever you're up against.
Three: Portugal are a side primed for knock-out football and having dealt with France and Germany already, there's no-one else out there who they should fear.
They may not go all the away again and win it but a run to the semis will surely see them trade at sub 5.00. After that, you never know.