The story of Portuguese football must start with Eusebio and the 1966 World Cup. In 6 games Eusebio scored 9 goals, and only the eventual Champions, England, could stop Portugal. Out of nowhere Portugal was the third-best country in the World. And then they disappeared again.
Next major tournament they qualify for is the Euro 84. The only team that could beat Portugal was hosts and later champions France. And that was with an extra-time goal in 119th minute. Following that they qualified for the 1986 World Cup. However, with a single group stage win. Portugal finished last in their group, and were not heard from for 10 years again.
The same happens with their club football on the international stage. Absolutely dominated by Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Portuguese talent is centralised in the three clubs. This means at times those three win major European club competitions at a rate much greater than is normal for a country of Portugal’s size. But they come and go.
However in Euro 96 Portugal were back to stay. Since then they have been a constant quarterfinal fixture in the tournament and even winning it in 2016. World Cup results have been more varied, but they have at least qualified for every major tournament since 2002. Portugal seems to do well at major tournaments in Europe, but not outside of it. So question is if Russia is close enough to home.
The point behind this night and day story is that Portugal is a team that has always been carried by stars and individualists. Except for the team that emerged in the 1990s. You had a whole generation who won everything together at youth level with players such as Luiz Figo, Rui Costa, Couto, and Conceição. Out of nowhere Portugal had a team, still of individualists, but when they play as a team, then they can beat anyone.
Portugal is in many ways like their former colony, Brazil, when they attack. They like technical dribblers, who can create chances on their own. Often a lot of ego goes into the Portuguese game, but they can today play as a unit. And that unit today is 100% focused around one of the greatest players in football history, Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7). But where in the past largely unknown players had filled gaps between the stars in the Portuguese team, then today there are quality on all positions.
Portuguese football is characterised by a mix of the old style of stars, who needed to do things on their own, and the modern game of everyone doing their part. This is Ronaldo’s Portugal, but they are also a very competent team without him. They especially have lot of talent in their current squad. As per the Portuguese game, then the ball goes to number 7 as much as possible, but if the opponents focus to much on the super star, then they are going to leave space for other world class players. And that is how Portuguese football bridges the gap of individual stars and a functioning team. There is always space for someone able to use it.
Where do the Portuguese play?
4 until recently played for Sporting. But after a hooligan attack on players following training, with alleged involvement of their own president, then they and others have moved to have their contracts legally rescinded. 1 play for Benfica and 1 for Porto.
The rest play all over. It used to be that significant parts of the Portuguese national team played in Spain, but today that is only 2 players including CR7. England 4, Turkey 3, Italy 2, France 2, Germany 1, China 1, Russia 1, and Scotland 1.
Of note though is that the players playing in the Portuguese league are not just reserves. 3 of the Sporting players started against Spain.
Group and expectations
Portugal started off with 3-3 against Spain with Ronaldo scoring 3 goals.
Next they face Morocco. Iran closed them down completely, and won the game with a 1-0 goal in the last minute. This leave Morocco in a position, where they have to beat both Portugal and Spain to go through, so they cannot just defend against Portugal, and then the star-filled Portuguese attack is likely to have an easy day at the office.
Finally, the pride of Portuguese football face Iran. Normally Iran’s defensive wall would be enough for them. However, in a likely scenario, then at this point Iran has lost to Spain in the second game. Therefore Spain and Portugal each have 4 points and Iran 3. This means Iran reasonably have to beat Portugal to go through. And then again Portugal face a team, which would really like to defend against them, but do not have such a luxury.
If Iran surprise against Spain and win, then the groups is likely 6I-4P-1S-0M, and Iran are through, while Portugal just needs a point. If a draw, then it is 4P-4I-1S-0M and if Portugal win by 2 against Morocco, then Iran need to win the final game, and Portugal just needs a draw.
So… If Portugal beat Morocco by 2, then they are basically through from the group, as they only need a draw against Iran. And seeing the form CR7 is in, then I doubt this should not be a problem. And if Portugal can stabilise their defence as well, then they are likely to be a potential contender for the title. But… It all depends on Ronaldo and either how well he plays or how well he sets up his team. In the final 2 years ago CR7 left the pitch in the 25th minute with an injury, but he near acted as manager on the sideline, and captained his team from the bench to a extra-time 1-0 win. Simply put: Portugal’s chances still depend absolutely on their star, Cristiano Ronaldo.