Coming off the heartbreaking last-second loss against Serbia in the final FIFA World Cup qualifying group stage match, the outlook doesn’t look great for Portugal; it would seem. Portugal has to go through the playoff path, where 12 teams will battle it out in Qatar next year. As tough as this loss clearly will be to take for the nation and national team, the glass is still, in fact, half full. Fernando Santos’s team still boasts some of the best talent in world football and poses a threat for whoever they come up against in the playoffs. Portugal stands with Italy as two of the three heavy favorites for most to advance to the World Cup, and once Portugal is there, anything is possible. This is why Portugal World Cup contender’s status remains intact.
The Playoff Path Doesn’t Hinder Portugal World Cup Contender’s Status
Roster Brimming With Talent
The starting XI of the national team can rival any in the world. The Portuguese are littered with talent all over the pitch playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world. All but two of the current roster play in one of the “Big Five” European leagues. Starting at the back, Rui Patricio of Roma handles the sticks. The defense is highlighted by Manchester City teammates Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias, who provide stonewall defending and attack from defense, respectively. The midfield is manned by talents like Renato Sanches from Lille, Ruben Neves from Wolves, and Danilo from PSG. However, the attack is where the money is made, and the excitement lies. The attack is headlined by the all-world talent of Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United, who will be discussed further later. Ronaldo might get a lot of the publicity, but don’t forget the genuine superstars the United forward gets to link up with on matchday. The devastating attack is headlined by Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes, crosstown rival Bernardo Silva, and one of the best young players in the world and dubbed the “next Ronaldo” in Joao Felix of Atletico Madrid. The gifted players above are also supplemented by super subs like Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota, Rafael Leao, Nelsen Semedo, and William Carvalho, amongst others, to form the ultra-talented team that can play with anyone in the world. The parts all fit together to make Portugal World Cup contenders despite what took place against Serbia.
Cristiano Ronaldo- The Saviour/Last Chance at Glory
The Manchester United forward is arguably the greatest soccer player who ever lived. Ronaldo has saved the Red Devils and the job of Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on numerous occasions in the short few months the former Juventus man has been back at United. Most people agree when you have an all-universe talent like this on the field, the team always has a chance to win regardless of the opponent. The former Real Madrid forward has tallied 115 goals in 184 appearances for the national team and recently became the all-time leading goal scorer at the international level. There is nothing this otherworldly talent has not done or won at the country or club level; that is beside the World Cup. Ronaldo has made one semifinal in the World Cup, way back in 2006 as a twenty-one-year-old. Since then, the United striker and the national team have not made it past the Round of 16. Including not making it out of the group in the 2014 World Cup. All of this frustration and failure has led to this moment, in what will likely be Ronaldo’s last chance on the biggest stage to win the one thing he hasn’t achieved. The motivation will be through the roof to win this for himself, his teammates, and his legacy as one of the greatest ever. Adding a World Cup medal to his massive trophy cabinet will only enhance his argument to be the GOAT. It seems like every time a goal is needed for club or country, Ronaldo is there either scoring it or assisting it. This year, the United man has averaged more than a goal per game in the Champions League, including late goals that rescued five points for the Red Devils. Cristiano Ronaldo will leave it all out on the field like he always does to achieve immortality by winning the World Cup and being the driving force behind the team.
Winning Mentality/Big Game Experience
As stated earlier, Portugal is stocked with talent at every level that plays at the highest level of the club game. Playing for the elite teams in Europe allows players to create a winning mentality that each star brings to the international level. When you’re on the best teams every year, chances are your near the top of the league, winning domestic cups and competing at the highest level in the Champions League or Europa League. There is no stat to measure the importance of international matches, but knowing how to win can never hurt and only benefit the national team. Along with the winning mentality, participating in numerous big and important games over the year at the club level gives valuable experience in this pressurized atmosphere for all involved. Every tournament is essentially multiple one-game mini-tournaments that are almost always must-win. There are only three group games at a World Cup, and all three hold real significance if you want to advance to the knockouts. Not every player is ready for this type of pressure or built for this kind of intensity. Possessing the experience of playing in knockout tournaments provides an excellent advantage for the player and the team. When you have been there before, the situation doesn’t seem as pressurized or foreign because you know how to handle it and thrive in it. There are four players from Manchester City in the team that played in the Champions League final last May. Two players from Manchester United also play under pressure-packed circumstances every week they take the pitch. Players from PSG, Atletico Madrid, and Liverpool also comprise the squad. The experience these players gain at the club level is invaluable and provides the mental state of mind that propels each player in these all-or-nothing matches.
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