The European World Cup qualifier playoffs are finally upon us and that means we’ll find out which one of, if any, of Portugal or Italy will make it to Qatar at the end of the year.
Both teams failed to qualify through their groups, with a last minute defeat to Serbia costing Portugal their place, and now they’ve been placed on the same playoff path.
They’ll now take on Turkey, while Italy face North Macedonia and the winners face each other next week to finalise their place. But I’m willing to bet it won’t be my beloved Portugal at the end of it all.
News came out this week after coach Fernando Santos announced his squad that there are big issues.
Joao Cancelo and Renato Sanches are suspended for the game against Turkey after too many yellow cards in the qualifying group, while Nelson Semedo, Ruben Neves and Ruben Dias are all out of the squad completely through injury.
Then it was revealed that Pepe, the veteran and world class central defender, has tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t be available against Turkey either, with his availability in a potential final in question too.
That means a likely central defensive pairing of 38-year-old Jose Fonte and defensive midfielder Danilo will be formed to try and carry the team into the World Cup, which screams down horribly upon the reign of Santos as manager.
Yes he won Euro 2016 and it was a magical, magical moment in the team and country’s history. Nobody is disputing that and it correctly earned him credit in the bank with fans and the FA.
But six years on and there has been little to no progression in the squad, while Portugal haven’t progressed past the first knockout round in any of the following tournaments.
They won the UEFA Nations League, but if we’re all being honest, that isn’t a major international honour and will never be considered as such.
The lack of progress under him can be seen just by looking at the squad for this set of games. There was a possibility, before Pepe’s positive test, that Santos could have named the same back five and defensive midfielder for these games as he did in that 2016 Euro’s final.
It’s ghastly and the lack of any youth options in the centre of defence to come through in that time is frightening.
Ruben Dias barely counts, because he was always going to make it. Captain of Benfica at a young age and clearly heads and shoulder above those at his age level, he was fast-tracked and rightly so.
But the likes of Goncalo Inacio, Tiago Djalo and David Carmo have never had a look in. Ezri Konsa is eligible to be called up, but Santos has never even pretended to look into it. He’s just stuck with the players he already knows.
Somehow in 2021, Luis Neto was still getting call ups.
Now, in a situation where it’s likely to be the final World Cup opportunity for the likes of legends like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Joao Moutinho is relying on players that are below par over-performing or stepping up immediately from a lower level.
Even if they manage to get past a tough Turkey side on Thursday night, that’s surely going to be too much to ask when they inevitably come up against the European champions Italy in the final.
You can’t hope for things at the highest level. Santos has had plenty of chances in the past to blood young defenders in the same way he has midfielders and attackers.
If they now fail to make it to the greatest tournament on the planet for the first time since 1998, then the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Santos.
Ludicrous, impulsive and straight-up nonsensical were just a portion of the adjectives awaiting Rúben Amorim in light of his appointment as Sporting manager for a whopping €10 million compensation fee, the third highest ever, just two months into his first stint in charge of his first top-flight club, Sporting de Braga.
The Lions’ club president, Frederico Varandas, and his camp were quick to remind critics of the last managerial gamble Sporting passed on – a relatively well-known individual by the name of José Mourinho – adding that the value forked out for Amorim would be nothing compared to money placed back into the coffers through player development and future sales.
For Sporting fans, promised a return to the glory days for so long, the vision in place seemed farfetched for a club who had not only gone 18 years without tasting Primeira Liga success, but had also seen their quality in numbers gutted by the mayhem that ensued in 2018 with widespread contract terminations, as the task to build on an uneven foundation rested on Amorim’s shoulders.
Against the better judgement of the doubters, however, of which there were, of course, plenty, what Amorim has been able to do in the green half of Lisbon since the bold move has been nothing short of miraculous, marking him out as one of the biggest up-and-coming commodities in the managerial industry.
Perhaps aided by a mid-season arrival at Sporting in early 2020, the then 35-year-old was quick to adhere to the historical connection the club has with its own academy by blooding youth, introducing a lot of the younger faces to the multi-faceted 3-4-3 formation he’s sworn by since arriving at the pinnacle of Portuguese football.
The results improved slowly and surely under the manager’s command and the eventual rise in prominence of Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes and Gonçalo Inácio, among others, served as the guiding light for what Amorim was looking to build.
Fresh doubts were cast during the following summer, with Sporting committing considerable funds to land the likes of Pedro Gonçalves and Nuno Santos, on top of others who had previously failed to inspire at previous clubs, such as Pedro Porro and the more experienced Antonio Adán and Zouhair Feddal.
But as Pedro Gonçalves banged in the goals and ex-La Liga trio, Adán, Feddal and Porro formed part of an almost impenetrable defence, pushing its side up the table, it quickly became visible that what Amorim was cooking had clearly showed signs of bubbling.
The youthfulness of the squad continued the catch the eye as the onlookers quizzed Sporting’s manager, right throughout the season, how long such young heads could keep their title-winning form going.
Never one to pile on the pressure, Amorim was always and continues to be very measured with his words, disarming each and every press conference with rational and insightful dialogue.
He’s a grand protector of his players and in that, some may say, lies the key ingredient to his recent managerial success of late.
The rapport between player and manager is close-knit, with the fresh-faced coach often seen cracking a joke with his pupils at training and on the sidelines. That camaraderie extends itself throughout the entire squad, amongst the players, many of which are meant to be rivalling each other for the same position in Amorim’s plans.
With Sporting’s future stars, already fuelled by the prospect of causing an impression at such a young age, being nurtured by the importance of work ethic and togetherness, the club was able to achieve what the wealth of Benfica and the experience of FC Porto could not in 2021, bringing to a close a dispiriting cycle of 19 years without the evasive Primeira Liga title.
This season, with greater expectations attached to the precedent set, Amorim & co. are hoping to go back-to-back as they tussle with Porto at the midpoint of the season.
In the meantime, the former Portugal international has made inroads on the European stage too, where they made it out of the UEFA Champions League group for the first time since 2008, with a date against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set up for the last round of 16.
The match-up presents a platform for João Palhinha and Pedro Gonçalves, among many others, to increase the number of suitors already onto the noise emanating from Alvalade, but you can bet much of the attention will also coming knocking for the 37-year-old manager, particularly if the current title holder manages to pull off a shock against ‘the Citizens’.
Whoever it is that comes calling will have to part way with €30 million, as per Amorim’s release clause, running across a deal that expires in 2024.
The figure has served as a repellent for interested teams during a time of absolute focus on the project at hand from the former Portugal international, but Sporting know they won’t be able to hold onto their poster boy for too long.
The club fortunate enough to reel him in will be acquiring the latest in a line of promising Portuguese managers – dubbed the leader of the new school and, still, the heir to Mourinho’s throne.
Unlike the former Chelsea and Inter boss, however, Amorim’s foundations stem from a great sense of modesty, respect and general correctness. He’s an adaptable figure who’s rallying cries touch numerous types of characters and make Sporting the thriving family-like ambience it is today.
It’s this clear vision and approach that’s enabled Amorim’s teams to dream and excel, decorating a CV that becomes more and more attractive to his suitors by the week.
Tuesday night, against City, holds the power of fast-forwarding the inevitable – presenting Amorim to the world.
Because of those results both sides were entered into the playoffs, where they were drawn in the same path meaning they could meet in the playoff final for one of the three available places in the tournament.
The result means only one of the teams can go through and they are likely to meet in the final game, with Portugal getting drawn with home advantage.
Scotland and Wales were also drawn in the same path, meaning Britain won’t have more than two sides representing them alongside England.
Russia and Sweden were the seeded teams to be drawn into Path B, meaning that only one of those will be able to qualify also.
For the biggest teams to meet each other they must first win games against the unseeded teams in a one-legged game too. You can see the full draw below.
Semi-finals: Scotland vs Ukraine Wales vs Austria
Final: Winner of Wales/Austria vs Winner of Scotland/Ukraine
Semi-finals: Russia vs Poland Sweden vs Czech Republic
Final: Winner of Russia/Poland vs Winner of Sweden/Czech Republic
Semi-finals: Italy vs North Macedonia Portugal vs Turkey
Final: Winner of Portugal/Turkey vs Winner of Italy/North Macedonia
All semi-final fixtures will be played on March 24th 2022, before the finals on March 29th 2022.
The Qatar World Cup 2022 qualifying phase is over for European nations, but we still don’t know all the teams that will be playing in the tournament.
After ten games each in their groups, ten teams have been assured qualification to the tournament next winter when the most prestigious tournament in football goes to the Middle East.
Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Croatia, England and Denmark have all confirmed their places, but there are still three more places up for grabs from the continent of Europe.
But there will be 12 teams competing for those final three spaces, in a mini playoff tournament that will decipher which teams make it. It’s a bit complicated, but here is how it will work.
The 12 teams involved in the playoff tournament are;
Of those sides, the first six named will be seeded which means they will play the fixture at home.
There will be three paths to the World Cup, with four teams separated into each of the three paths. In those paths there will be a one-legged semi-final game and then a one-legged final. The winner of those finals will earn qualification into the World Cup.
The semi-finals and finals of the games will take place between March 24th and March 29th 2022.
The draw for the paths will take place on Friday November 26th in Zurich, with another draw to take place following the semi-finals to determine which team will play the final at home.
At the start of the international break this month, Portugal were in pole position to have their qualification status for Qatar 2022 all wrapped up.
They travelled to face the Republic of Ireland in a bit of a dead rubber game, because regardless of the result it was the final game against Serbia on Sunday night that mattered.
A 0-0 draw with Ireland changed nothing. Portugal needed a draw in the home game against Serbia to secure top spot on goal difference, while a victory would leave no question as to whether they deserved it or not.
The pre-game press conference once again led to Fernando Santos making a promise to Portugal fans.
“Tomorrow, we will qualify for the World Cup.”
They didn’t. Despite a goal from Renato Sanches in the second minute that gave them the lead, Portugal were poor throughout. Serbia equalised in the first half thanks to Dusan Tadic, whose strike took a slight deflection off Danilo and meant Rui Patricio could only deflect the ball into his own net.
Portugal barely created any chances in the game, with Cristiano Ronaldo failing to register a single shot on target in the game for the first time in the entire qualifying campaign.
But in the 93rd minute, Aleksandar Mitrovic slammed a header in at the near post to book Serbia’s ticket to Qatar and condemn Portugal to a play-off that makes their participation at the World Cup far from certain.
Santos has been in charge of Portugal since September 2014, when he took over from Carlos Quieroz after a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The former Greece manager saved that campaign and led them in that World Cup, before then winning Euro 2016. He then led the team into the 2018 World Cup, where as European champions they really disappointed by crashing out in the round of 16 to Uruguay.
That should’ve been the trigger for Santos to depart, but instead Portugal opted to keep him and gave him the extra credit of winning Euro 2016. He responded by winning the first ever version of the UEFA Nations League the following year, defeating Holland in the final.
Since then however, it’s not been great going. Portugal struggled at Euro 2020 to a late win over Hungary in the opening group game before a defeat to Germany and a draw with France put them through as a best third-placed team. They were then beaten by Belgium, once again failing to really create much going forward.
Now with this latest failure, it seems like his time as being the right man for the job is probably over.
With the squad at his disposal, he is a totally wrong fit for the team. Santos is constantly putting defence first when trying to sort a squad out, despite the abundance of attacking talent he has available to him.
The first thought of the manager is always not to lose rather than to win, which fitted well with expectations when he first took over but not so much anymore.
This is a squad that is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world with a bit of tactical invention and good structure.
With the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota and Ronaldo among the ranks then this is a team very capable of scoring goals.
With a four month period now between the failure and the play-offs in March, there is a chance to make a change now and bring in a more attack-minded coach like Leonardo Jardim to get the best out of this upcoming generation of attacking talent.
Santos is on borrowed time with Portugal and they have a chance to make it right before they miss out on a World Cup competition for the first time since 2002.
In every generation of football there is a selection of players that while they may not see the greatest level of success, are never forgotten by the fans.
These players are usually the ones that kept the fans on the edge of their seats during games, provided memorable moments and played the beautiful game in a beautiful way.
This series is dedicated to celebrating those players and giving them their flowers now, before they fade into the distance and it’s too late.
One of the best flair players of his generation, Ricardo Quaresma is the first man to be the subject of our attentions.
There was a point in time where both he and Cristiano Ronaldo were playing together in the Sporting academy, and it was he who was seen as the bigger talent.
Troubles always followed Quaresma off the field, with his ‘gypsy’ lifestyle always used as a stick to beat him with by fans and media.
His attitude wasn’t the most professional at all times, but his ability has never, ever been in question.
The ability to play on either wing and use either foot was brilliant, but he also had the unique skill of mastering the ‘trivela’. He was always able to produce an incredible amount of swerve and dip with the outside of his right foot, making it near impossible for defenders to stop him.
He was always quick, while also being strong as an ox and had the most nimble of feet. Stepovers, chops, flicks and tricks, you name it and Quaresma could do it.
He produced one of the most memorable goals ever while playing for the national team back in 2007.
Quaresma received the ball out on the right wing and with his first touch skilfully chopped back inside onto what everyone thought would be his left foot.
Instead, with his very next touch the former Porto, Barcelona and Inter Milan winger used the outside of his right boot to bend the ball into the far top corner, defying all the laws of football.
It was an iconic moment and flash of brilliance from one of the biggest ‘what if’ players that has ever played the game.
He has won league titles in three different countries (Portugal, Italy and Turkey) and even won Euro 2016 with Portugal but he could’ve been so much more.
History may forget him one day, but the streets never will.
Euro 2020’s first round of matches has come to an end and we’ve been shown who the true contenders for the title are already.
It is one of the more stacked tournaments in recent memory, with several top sides coming into the competition with an expectation upon them that they make it to the latter stages.
But following the first round of group games being completed, three teams in particular have stood out as ones to watch more than any other.
Italy opened up the tournament with a 3-0 win over Turkey in Rome, where they really took their pre-tournament dark horses tag literally and turned in a fantastic performance. Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne added to an own goal but the way they kept a high tempo, pressed hard and passed the ball quickly was a joy to watch.
Their home advantage definitely will have helped to spur them on but defensively they still look as solid as they are historically know for being, but going forward they have lots of options and dynamism which stands them in good stead going forward.
Portugal are another side who started the tournament very well. It was a close game against Hungary, in front of a capacity crowd of 61,000 fans in Budapest, but Portugal largely dominated proceedings with some bad decisions and execution in the final third costing them.
They eventually found their rhythm late on though and scored three goals in the final ten minutes to put Hungary to the sword and earn themselves three points – as many as they earned in the entire group stage in 2016.
Also in their group are the last two World champions France and Germany, who played out a highly entertaining game later on Tuesday evening. Mats Hummels’ own goal in the end was the difference, but the French side played a great game that saw them control the tempo for the most part.
They had two goals disallowed for marginal offside calls too to show they are a threat going forward, while Germany didn’t really create any clear cut chances the other way.
But Spain’s performance during the competition is one that has largely divided opinion.
Luis Enrique’s side enjoyed 80% of possession against Sweden in their opening game but after missing a host of chances during the game they could only secure themselves a 0-0 draw – the only one of the tournament so far.
While some claimed they “defended with the ball” by just playing the ball side-to-side with little penetration, I saw it very differently.
They played with a high tempo, moved the ball quickly and Pedri in particular stood out as someone who looked to make those incisive passes in behind the low block of Sweden’s defence. The only thing they were missing was a clinical finisher in goal.
Alvaro Morata, as usual, missed the majority of those but Spain were threatening enough and kept the ball well enough to make me think that that isn’t something that will trouble them long term.
They have options in the squad that can score, with the likes of 30-goal Gerard Moreno, but also Morata can’t keep missing all his chances. The likes of Dani Olmo, Adama Traore, Pablo Sarabia, Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal are also all capable of finding the net, so it’s not like Spain are going to struggle for depth.
I’m not saying they’re going to waltz to a tournament win here, not by any stretch, but with their style of play and the fact they’re clearly very well drilled in that methodology the results will only improve over time.
Against the top sides they will absolutely need to be more clinical, but they are well set up to get far in this tournament and depending on their route and getting a bit of lucky you cannot rule them all the way out just yet.
Euro 2020 is upon us after a 12-month delay and it means there will be plenty of faces at the tournament this summer that wouldn’t have been originally.
24 nations will compete to be crowned champions of Europe while playing across 11 cities on the continent, but many will be relying on young players in their squads to fill a role.
Whether that role be as a starter, competition for a place, an impact sub or just filling numbers and earning experience there are plenty of quality youngsters that will be involved. With the tournament kicking off tomorrow, here are five youngsters to keep a close eye on.
The Barcelona youngster made a very big impression in his first season with the first-team under Ronald Koeman.
Originally coming through as a winger, the 18-year-old moved over into central midfield as the season progressed and made the role his own alongside Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets. A fantastic passer, Pedri is also a great dribbler and breaks the lines well. Defensively his work rate is excellent too and while he faces plenty of competition to get into the side, once he gets his chance I fully expect him take it with both hands.
His transition from Las Palmas to Barcelona was seamless, and I expect his transition to international football will be just as good.
After coming through the Chelsea academy and representing England at youth level, Jamal Musiala made the move to Germany with Bayern Munich and chose to represent the country of his birth at international level.
At just 18-years-old, Musiala established himself as part of Bayern’s first-team squad this season and made 39 appearances, scoring seven times. Playing mostly as a number ten when he did play, his willingness to play on the half-turn and confidence to try things with the ball really set him apart from the rest of the players his age.
His end product is great and he won’t be expected to play much, but if given the chance he is good enough to make an impact against any defence he may come up against.
This might be a bit of a cop out since Foden has been on everyone’s list for a couple of years, but if this tournament took place last year as it was meant to then he wouldn’t have been in the squad.
This season though he had a superb campaign with Manchester City, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year and registering double digits for goals and assists across all competitions. Brilliant passing, a delicate first touch, driving dribbling and versatile with the positions he can play, Foden will be right in Gareth Southgate’s thinking for the England team
He’s probably the one who will play the biggest role for his nation during this tournament and is a superstar in the making.
The only defender on this list comes from the reigning European champions and is another player who has benefited from the tournament being delayed by a year.
Playing as a left-back or left wing-back for Sporting CP this season, the Lisbon side won the league for the first time in 19 years and Mendes was a big part of that. His pace is tremendous and his drive with the ball makes him a constant threat going forward.
He started both warm-up games in the build up tournament and it seems that he is the new first-choice left-back ahead of Raphael Guerreiro, so he has some big shoes to fill.
Holland are well known for producing absolute gems when it comes to young players, but Gravenberch might be the best one in a little while.
The Ajax starlet broke into the first-team this season as they won another Eredivisie title and played a starring role in central midfield. Compared to Paul Pogba because of his tall frame but brilliant technical ability, the 18-year-old has got all the attributes to really dominate a midfield and control a midfield.
Alongside the experience of Gini Wijnaldum and composure of De Jong in midfield, Gravenberch has a great chance of making a real name for himself this summer.
After a year long delay, Euro 2020 is finally upon us with a genuine top level tournament threatening to take place.
After the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the tournament last summer, 24 nations will finally take place across the continent as we seek to crown the champions of Europe for the first time since Portugal lifted the trophy in 2016.
With so many stars packing the tournament with quality at the vast majority of teams, some squads are far more stacked than others. With that said, there are several teams who will believe they have a genuine chance of winning the competition this summer.
All the usual heavyweights are involved this year so lets take a look at the top contenders for the trophy this summer at Euro 2020.
The Dutch squad looked set to develop into something genuinely exciting under Ronald Koeman, reaching the UEFA Nations League final and bringing through yet another generation of exciting youngsters.
Then Koeman left for Barcelona and was replaced by Frank De Boer, arguably the worst manager in football right now still getting jobs at the top level. It didn’t help that Virgil Van Dijk got a horror injury before the tournament started that ruled him out for a year and it’s even less helpful that goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to sit the tournament out.
They’re preparing to play in a 3-5-2 system with Memphis leading the line up front and in form, but they just don’t look well drilled right now. Despite that though, they have got a lot of quality in the side. Youngster Ryan Gravenberch will almost certainly be a breakout star in the tournament, while Matthijs De Ligt will look to improve his reputation as one of the best young defenders in Europe.
Unfortunately for them though, De Boer is such a huge negative factor when it comes to them that this tournament will come too soon for them to see any sort of success. With any such luck, it’ll be De Boer’s first and last tournament as boss.
It’ll be the final tournament of Joachim Löw’s 15-year tenure as Germany boss this summer and he’ll look to go out with a bang.
After finishing as runners-up at Euro 2008 and winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Low’s time in charge comes to an end when he is replaced by Hansi Flick after this tournament. But in front of him, he has selected a stacked squad full of young talent and experienced quality blending together.
After a horror show last time out at World Cup 2018 in Russia, Low will be counting on the quality of the likes of Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels in the spin of his team but with the fresher generation of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane supporting them.
Tactically they look sharp in a 4-2-3-1 or in a three-at-the-back system with wing-backs and they look clinical going forward too with such quality options in attack. They’ve been chucked into the group of death in this tournament, but with the four best third-placed teams able to qualify they will feel they have a great chance of getting through and then beating anyone in a one-off game.
It’s been a while since Italy were deemed a genuine threat at an international tournament but Roberto Mancini has absolutely got them there again.
The former Manchester City boss has developed a squad that is filled with quality in key areas and blessed with physical attributes as well as lots of technical skill. Led by veterans Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in defence, with the youthful Gianluigi Donnarumma behind them and Marco Verratti in front, they are a force to be reckoned with.
They then have the brilliance of Nico Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Manuel Locatelli in midfield too while Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernadeschi can support the attack of Andrea Belotti and/or Ciro Immobile.
They have great depth, a great togetherness and are currently on a 27-match unbeaten run stretching back to 2018. They know how to keep a clean sheet with nine in their last 11 fixtures and with goals all over the pitch as well as an ability to either be defensive or go on the front foot, they’re real dark horses for the competition.
This is Luis Enrique’s second spell in charge of the Spanish national team, but his first tournament after his shock resignation back in 2019 saw him leave the role for six months.
During that spell and this current one though, Enrique has been able to put together a string of highly impressive performances using a variety of players and has even left some big names out. Despite naming only 24 players for a 26-man squad, the likes of Sergio Ramos and Saul Niguez weren’t selected.
Even without them though, Spain look good. Defensively they look well organised and press well, while on the ball they move it quickly and have lots of interchanging movement among their players. One thing they do lack is a lethal striker. Gerard Moreno hit 30 in all competitions for Villarreal this season but he doesn’t really suit Spain’s style of play and it’s Alvaro Morata who tends to start as the striker.
Spain have a chance of becoming the darkest of horses in the tournament, however their lack of a real goalscorer blunted their attack in the friendly against Portugal in the warm-up game. With players testing positive for COVID-19 just days before the tournament starts too, their preparation will be affected and I don’t think they’ll be successful this time although they will be entertaining.
The England squad is arguably at it’s strongest since the golden generation that saw Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham all lining up alongside each other back in the Euro 2004 era.
With bags of attacking talent and some solid defensive options, Gareth Southgate has got a great chance of improving on the World Cup semi-final run that they managed to put together in 2018. Their preparations took a hit when Trent Alexander-Arnold was forced to withdraw with a thigh injury, but Southgate drafted in Brighton’s Ben White to cover in midfield and defence.
Jack Grealish is in the form of his life in attack while Mason Mount and Phil Foden are coming off the back of a Champions League final to end their brilliant seasons in attack, supporting Harry Kane who had the best season of his career all-round.
There is genuine hope and belief that England could turn in a Euro 96-esque performance this summer, getting to the latter stages and causing the big sides real problems. There is expectation on them to perform but with Southgate in charge they may struggle.
He prefers to work towards the strengths of his opponent to nullify, rather than exposing their weaknesses with his great squad and against the top sides that could be the difference in winning and losing.
One of the deepest squads in the tournament, Belgium have got some insane quality amongst their ranks for this tournament.
Thibaut Courtois is among the best goalkeepers in the world, Yannick Carrasco has excelled as a wing-back for Atletico this season winning La Liga, Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans have had fantastic seasons domestically while Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard would get into most teams when fit.
Robert Martinez has developed a great style of play with the ‘Red Devils’ which has seen them capable of dominating possession and counter-attacking in style, while defensively they can be a very solid side too with plenty of experience.
Skill, quality, a lethal goalscorer, fantastic creators in midfield and experienced, quality defenders, Belgium will be disappointed to not be challenging for honours at the very least at Euro 2020.
The current reigning European champions, Portugal are in the middle of a golden generation once again. After winning the tournament in 2016, the Selecao have developed even greater depth in their squad and are genuinely quality against any opposition now.
Cristiano Ronaldo is still leading the line at 36 years old but is coming off the back of a Serie A golden boot campaign, while Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo all enjoyed stellar campaigns with Manchester City.
Bruno Fernandes will be looking to improve his international form after scoring just twice for the national team in 28 appearances, while Joao Felix will be keen to finally perform to the standard everyone knows he can.
Fernando Santos is still in charge which means Portugal are still very hard to beat, but it also means they can be limited in attack against the top opposition which could see them struggle in the latter stages. In the group of death too, that could see them struggle early on and ultimately they’ll likely fall short.
Without a doubt the strongest squad and the favourites to win the tournament, World champions France are back with a vengeance.
Beaten at the Euro 2016 final by Portugal on home turf, France bounced back to win the World Cup in style and have developed one of the greatest pools of players to select their squad from ever. Now with Didier Deschamps still at the helm, they’ll look to make history as just the third team to be World and European champions simultaneously.
With a very similar squad to 2018, the biggest factor is the return of Karim Benzema after five years away from the international scene following legal and political issues. It’s pretty hard to improve the World champions, but Benzema is the calibre of player who can.
His potential link up with Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba make it nigh on impossible to see France not make the final at the very least and anything but winning it would be deemed as a failure among neutrals and French fans.
Between the early 00’s and mid 2010’s the manager who running football was none other than Jose Mourinho.
Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid all hosted the Portuguese gaffer, and at three of those clubs he made sure that he had the great Ricardo Carvalho with him marshalling the defence for him.
From a period of having flowing locks to essentially going bald, Carvalho was a standout defender wherever he went and always shone, yet he never seemed to get the full credit that he really deserved.
Coming through the FC Porto academy, Carvalho was well known for his excellent tackling and dominant aerial ability. Positionally he was always flawless and he always had leadership qualities that shone through in a team full of quality footballers.
After breaking through into the Porto first-team, he found himself third choice behind the legendary duo of Jorge Andrade and captain Jorge Costa. It wasn’t long until he took the place of the skipper though and formed a tremendous partnership at the heart of the defence as Porto came second in the league.
He lost his place when Mourinho first came to Porto, with Costa earning his place back after Andrade left for Deportivo and partnering Pedro Emmanuel. He soon earned his place back once more though and as Porto went on to win the UEFA Cup by beating Celtic 3-2 after extra-time. His performances were so good that he even earned the individual honours of Porto player of the year and Portuguese League Footballer of the year.
The following year was when Carvalho became a true household name. A regular starter now under Mourinho, he led Porto to a second consecutive Primeira Liga title but also to a stunning win in the UEFA Champions League tournament. During that season he featured in every game during the competition, including the 3-0 final win over Monaco.
His performances were enough to secure him a place in the team of the tournament and earn him a call up to the Portuguese national team for Euro 2004. Once again he was deemed first choice there too as the Seleccao made it to the final, only to be beaten in the final by Greece on home turf.
Carvalho started all six of Portugal’s games, reuniting with Andrade in defence, and he made it into the UEFA team of the tournament, while also finishing ninth in the Ballon d’Or voting for 2004 and being the only defender to finish in the top ten.
He earned himself a big money move to Chelsea that summer, following Mourinho to his next destination. It was there where he formed his most famous partnership alongside Mr. Chelsea, John Terry. Together they were the mainstays in a defence that conceded just 15 goals across the entire league campaign as they won the title, a record that still stands to this day.
The following season they conceded just 22 times as they lifted the title a second time the following year, with Carvalho once again a star. He went on to feature 210 times for the Blues, winning three Premier League titles and two League Cups during his six seasons before opting for a move to Real Madrid – who were managed by Mourinho.
Once again he stepped into the team as a level headed, dominant defender and formed a great partnership alongside Portuguese national team colleague Pepe. In his first season with the club he was indispensable as Madrid won the Copa Del Rey, featuring 48 times across all competitions. In his second year he was first-choice until picking up an injury that kept him out of action.
During that spell Sergio Ramos moved to centre-back, where he would go on to become one of the best ever, and Carvalho lost his place at Madrid from that point onwards. Los Blancos won La Liga in record-breaking fashion that year, before he eventually moved on to Monaco to see out his career.
But during his time in France, he is more remembered for making a return to the national team to win Euro 2016. He started all three group games before being dropped for the knockout stages and his experience and leadership were credited largely within the squad, as the country won their first ever major international honour, beating host nation France in the final in extra time.
A phenomenal defender in his prime he was the perfect foil for his partners. Intelligent and dripping with technique and finesse, Carvalho was also always strong enough physically to never be bullied. He had pace to win foot races, a picture perfect slide tackle and a will to win.
Without a doubt one of the best defenders of his generation, Carvalho will go down as one of his nations best ever and a legend at two different clubs. Remember his greatness.