Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal are mentally strong and could be World Cup dark horses – predicted line-up and stats | The Sun

FERNANDO Santos has developed a mentally strong squad with belief and the ability to win everything since his arrival in 2014.

The team has been living through a tough present where ideas are not connecting in the best way, but the quality of the team is always there, and of course, the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo is still present.

Predicted starting XI

Portugal often play with a 4-2-3-1 with different types of wingers on each side, a single striker and, behind, a ‘10’.

Deeper, they use a double-pivot with one of them as a box-to-box and a rough back-four that possess the technical ability to find attacking players in dangerous positions while locking down their own box, as well as quick players to defend rapid transitions.

Diogo Costa, Porto’s young goalkeeper, has earned his rightful spot in the national team lately, thanks to his incredible performances domestically and at international level.


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Pepe, at 38 years of age, is still one of the regular starters for Fernando Santos thanks to his defensive solidity as well as his underrated passing abilities, always accompanied by Rúben Dias. 

Nuno Mendes and João Cancelo, without any doubt, are going to be Santos’ full-backs, each offering a very different profile, similar to the wingers Rafael Leão and Bernardo Silva.

Rúben Neves and William Carvalho have settled in perfectly, combining balance and intelligent roles on the ball.

The team is completed by Bruno Fernandes as a ‘10’ and Cristiano Ronaldo up front.


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Attacking phase

Santos’ tactics vary from a direct team that likes to build up attacks from the back and arrive in the final third in three-to-five touches, to a pragmatic one that likes to sit in a solid and rigid mid-block.

Players like Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho play pivotal functions inside the team system, thanks to their off-the-ball movements.

Portugal likes to serve the ball from Diogo Costa to the centre-backs with a great capacity to find teammates between the lines.

Normally, the right-back plays inverted and joins the back-three or the midfield to free up Carvalho (box-to-box) to move to more advanced areas and open space on the wing for Bernardo or Bruno to pin that zone.

This is one of the first impressions the ‘Lusos’ give when on the ball.

In the first stage of the build-up, the movements of the box-to-box, usually William Carvalho, are vital to open spaces for Rúben Neves or centre-backs to break lines.

Portugal likes to be very rapid from the back and not stay too long with the ball in their own third or between the back-four, as they want to create chaos in the opposition area. Carvalho, then, with his mobility, keeps helping the team to find spaces off the ball.

Another method used by Portugal to skip steps to get into an attacking phase is the great long distribution Diogo Costa possesses. 

On the left side, Cristiano Ronaldo and his winger usually change positions, looking to free one of them between the middle or outside.

In this example, we can see Bruno almost hugging the line, and Bernardo acting as the free man through the middle.

These overloads and exchanges of channels on the right are seen also in the final third,

The first goal was scored because of Bernardo getting deep and passing it to Dalot who can then carry the ball forward before playing to Bruno who crosses it immediately after receiving.

Fernando Santos’ team tries to score goals in many ways — one of them being a reliance on the goalscoring ability of Cristiano Ronaldo inside the box, so crosses can be a constant way of breaking the deadlock.

Movements off the ball are also very important in this goalscoring tactic, as sometimes the ‘10’ is the one that goes in or Cristiano might leave his zone to make space for others.

In the figure below, we can see Bruno is the one taking Ronaldo’s spot to score a tap-in.

Portugal like to rely also on the long shooting ability that most of the players in the squad have.

Players like Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, João Cancelo or Rúben Neves often try to score from outside the box.

Defensive phase

Fernando Santos’ team like to sit in a rigid mid-block against highly possession-based sides, looking to frustrate them as they would dominate the ball but create very few chances.

They also like to go a bit higher if the opposition is trying to attract them, where they aggressively go to tightly mark the player on the ball.

Bruno Fernandes man-marks the rival ‘6’ to close down that circuit of passes between centre-backs and pivot; William Carvalho occasionally jumps off his line and wingers mark zonally, leading to a pressing trap in the wide areas, where full-backs make themselves very important, especially Nuno Mendes and his big ball-winning attributes.

When they are attracted by the rival, Carvalho’s defensive ability to suffocate players becomes crucial.

As we can see in the figure below us, Portugal likes to be very aggressive if the opponents try to stay for a long time with the ball in their own third.

Another good example is this one against Spain, where goalkeeper Unai Simón has stayed a long time with the ball, and Cristiano Ronaldo goes to mark him tightly and even manages to earn a corner for his team. 


Portugal like to put emphasis on attacking transitions, as players like Rafael Leão and Cristiano Ronaldo are very threatening players running into space.

This picture shows us how they usually like to execute transitions: A run on the left and a long pass through the middle, mainly struck by Neves or Bruno Fernandes.

Cristiano Ronaldo or Diogo Jota are the predominant players who are targeted in these situations.

This transition started on the left, and the winger is asked to carry the ball forward rapidly and directly.

In defensive transitions, Portugal make really good exchanges of blocks between the high and the mid-low ones, with the great work of Neves and Carvalho to protect the central areas.


The goalkeeper position is fantastically covered as Diogo Costa will surely start but José Sá and experienced Rui Patrício could wait for their chance on the bench.

In the centre of the defence, Santos has difficult choices to make, as Pepe and José Fonte, at 39 and 38 years of age, respectively, are still good options, especially the Porto defender. 

However, young players such as Tiago Djaló or David Carmo deserve a chance to be there too alongside Rúben Dias. The full-backs are well covered with players like Diogo Dalot and Cancelo on the right, and Nuno Mendes on the left. 


Portugal has developed some serious midfield talents over the years since their setbacks in major tournaments.

In João Palhinha and the trusted Rúben Neves, they have two amazing players to play deep as a pivot but experienced William Carvalho or Vitinha and Matheus Nunes show up as the young starlets that could bring even more to the box-to-box role.

Bruno Fernandes, João Mario and João Félix are three great names to play in the ‘10’ role.


Portugal have marvellous options up front to play in an attacking trio that looks incredible with Cristiano Ronaldo alongside wingers Bernardo Silva, Ricardo Horta or Rafael Leão.

Key player

In his last World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo has a big mission to fulfil in his career: to try and win the most important trophy any player could have in his cabinet.

He’s not living his best moment at Manchester United right now, but in the National Team, all can change radically in a context in which he’s the leader, captain and a vital player in the attacking phase, commanded by him with young gems at his back. 

His weaknesses are well-documented, with Ronaldo offering his side very little without the ball.

However, if Portugal can successfully set up plenty of goalscoring opportunities for the 37-year-old in high-value shooting positions, Ronaldo could still be an extremely valuable asset in Qatar. 

Tournament prediction

Though not playing the most entertaining football, Portugal has a brilliant and talented squad all around the pitch.

Teams like theirs often go under the radar because they have been lacking dynamic and intensity during the qualifiers or the Nations League.

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However, the presence of great players in each line is always a boost for them and concerning for rivals.

Portugal can’t be ruled out of going all the way in this tournament, though they’ll undoubtedly need to up their recent performance levels.

Their group is not that hard and they are expected to qualify and possibly end as winners, which may be important to avoid Brazil in the last 16 if they top their group.

For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here

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