FIFA Confederations Cup: Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal have a point to prove
They might have won the European Championship in 2016, but a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal need to do well in the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup to cement their position as a new European footballing powerhouse.football Updated: Jun 15, 2017 17:41 IST
A major title is generally enough to silence the critics of any team, but that was certainly not the case for Portugal when they won their maiden European Championship in 2016.
Cristiano Ronaldo & Co did not win a single game in the group stages and their quarterfinal and semifinal matches were both decided on penalty shootouts. In the final against favourites and hosts France, it was an ultra defensive show from the 2004 finalists who lost their charismatic skipper within 20 minutes of the match.
The game was finally decided by a deflected long-range effort from substitute Eder which handed Portugal the first major title in their football history. However, the fans were not impressed by their campaign, and it was not long before a majority of them started calling Portugal ‘undeserving’ winners.
Almost a year has passed since that night at the Stade de France and all eyes will once again be on the Euro 2016 champions when they compete in their first ever FIFA Confederations Cup competition.
The eight-team competition, comprising world champions Germany, Portugal, South American champions Chile, Asian champions Australia, Oceania’s New Zealand, African Nations Cup winners Cameroon, Concacaf champions Mexico and hosts Russia starts on Saturday.
Portugal did not reach Russia in high spirits. They are currently second in their FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying group, and with four match days to go, it is bound to go down to the wire. It has been a surprisingly subdued campaign as it was expected that they will comfortably qualify after drawing Latvia, Hungary and Switzerland in their group.
But a heavy defeat against the Swiss has turned the situation on its head and they need to win their remaining matches as only the group winners are granted direct qualification. The pressure on the team is quite considerable in this scenario and it was clear from Portugal coach Fernando Santos’ claim that the Confederations Cup “does not matter at all”.
“It will not do me any harm, but, at the moment, Confederations Cup matters zero,” he told a news conference. “I am interested in preparing very well for the qualifiers.”
Those were indeed strong words from Santos, but his team selection suggests otherwise. The European champions will be at full strength when they face Mexico in their first match. The familiar faces from their Euro victory, and even Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently won the UEFA Champions League title with Real Madrid, have not been rested for this tournament.
Portugal will be determined to prove their critics wrong. A win in the FIFA Confederations Cup can strengthen their position as a new football powerhouse.