When we look back on Ronaldo’s Portugal career we will likely see a career of missed opportunities where Ronaldo’s best never coincided with Portugal’s best. When he had burst onto the scene, Portugal’s Golden Generation was approaching its end. International success, Euro 2004, was close but it eluded them. As Ronaldo developed his supporting cast got worse. Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 all passed by with Portugal never having a team capable of helping Ronaldo achieve success with his country.
Heading into this upcoming Euro’s there is a growing feeling that Portugal are now approaching another Golden Generation but with Ronaldo now being 31, will he be able to enjoy success with them? In Raphaël Guerreiro, William Carvalho, Danilo Pereira, João Mário, Cédric Soares, André Gomes, Renato Sanches and Rafa Silva, Portugal have identified eight players under the age of 25 that they believe can go to form the core of a team that will be able to contest with the very best in the world.
Offensively, this new generation of Portuguese talent looks capable of providing the attacking support that Portugal have lacked over the past eight years. Too often all of Portugal’s attacking endeavors were the result of the influence of Ronaldo. Without him they were toothless which made them a team that many fancied themselves against. With exciting talents like Rafa Silva, André Gomes and Renato Sanches in support, Ronaldo will be hoping to benefit from teams having to now not only focus their defense entirely on him.
On the flip side however, an ageing defense which was never good enough in their prime, will be a cause for concern for Portugal. Pepe, Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho are all well into their thirties and outside of Pepe, none seem to be in Championship winning form. Experience at the back is vital to tournament success but the ability to perform at a high level is of even more importance.
With Portugal drawn into a more than manageable group with Iceland, Austria and Hungary, one should be fairly confident that they will make it to the knockout stages. The question will be whether Portugal’s mix of the underwhelming old generation, the promising new generation and the star, that is Cristiano Ronaldo, possess enough in their lockers to spring a surprise or two after progressing to where they are expected to.