Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s star player, is writhing on the ground, gripping his left knee. A French crowd of 76,000 looks stunned as he limps off the field, returns with his knee wrapped, but signals for a sub. Ronaldo, arguably the best soccer player of all time, will have to leave the biggest game of his life early.

It’s the Euro 2016 final, and with 67 minutes left in the game, Ronaldo tearfully hands Nani his captain’s armband and limps down the tunnel. The moment Portugal has waited for since 1921 — a major tournament title — seems to be ruined.

But surprisingly, it’s not ruined. Goalkeeper Rui Patrício comes up with seven saves throughout the night. The Portugal defense bends but doesn’t break as the France attack launches shot after shot. André-Pierre Gignac scores, but he hits the post in stoppage time.

And finally, the breakthrough. Super-sub Eder receives the ball in the 109th minute, cuts inside amid heavy pressure, and sends a low shot past Hugo Lloris into the bottom left corner. Mayhem breaks loose as the Portugal team, including Ronaldo, rushes the field to celebrate. France can’t respond as the referee blows three whistles, and Portugal is on top of the world. Finally, after 95 years of waiting, Portugal claims its first major title.

It’s a monument that Portugal still hasn’t surpassed. They lost to Uruguay in the round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and lost to Belgium at the 2020 Euros. Eder and Rui Patricio don’t play significant roles for the national team anymore, while Euro 2024 could be Ronaldo’s last chance to take home more silverware for Portugal.

There’s still a host of worries and questions for Portugal, who enter Euro 2024 as one of the strongest teams in the tournament on paper, most of which surround Ronaldo and how they can replicate their past success.

Their Form

Since bouncing out of Euro 2020 in the round of 16, Portugal has had a mixed batch of results. A talented squad finished second in its World Cup group through a last-minute conceded goal and scraped through a difficult playoff round to make it to Qatar. There, Portugal looked like genuine contenders to win the title, with huge wins over Uruguay and Switzerland. However, a shocking loss to Morocco in the quarter-finals shattered their World Cup dreams.

However, Portugal looks confident under new manager Roberto Martinez. Portugal finished with ten wins from ten games in their Euro 2024 group along with friendly wins over Sweden and Finland.

Portugal beat Finland 4-2 in the June international window, but narrowly lost to fellow contenders Croatia 2-1.

Their Path to the Final

Portugal has a pretty easy group, unlike the stacked 2020 group of France, Germany, Hungary, and Portugal. Opta Analytics gives Portugal a 93.6% chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds and a 60% chance to win their group.

Portugal will face the Czech Republic first. Czechia made it to the quarter-finals in 2020, and it seems the Czechs have only gotten better. They’re led by West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek and Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick. Both played significant roles in the Czech Republic’s continental campaign, with Schick’s goal against Scotland one of the more memorable parts of the tournament.

Turkey, although several levels behind Portugal in quality, will be the toughest opponent coming out of Group F. They suffered a humiliating exit in Euro 2020, dismantled by Italy in the opening game and facing similar fates against Wales and Switzerland. But this Turkish team is shaping into a golden generation of itself. Wunderkinds Arda Güler and Kenan Yıldız will join Turkey for their first major tournament ever, while Orkun Kökçü and Hakan Çalhanoğlu take on leadership roles in their redemption run.

Georgia, the tournament’s only debutants, joins as arguably the weakest team in the entire field. The most recognizable faces are superstar winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Newcastle-linked stopper Giorgi Mamardashvili, and promising Ligue 1 striker Georges Mikautadze. Expectations are low, but the potential and promise for the rising Georgia squad are high — is an upset in the works?

If Portugal wins its group, it will play one of the tournament’s four best third-placed teams. If Portugal finishes as runners-up, it will play the winners of Group D; likely France, who is facing its own problems ahead of Euro 2024.

Key Players

This Portugal squad is arguably the most complete it’s been in years. The team’s leaders — Pepe, Ronaldo, and even backup keeper Rui Patrício — are all still with the team. Rising players like João Neves, Nuno Mendes, and Antonio Silva could all make appearances despite being under the age of 21.

Outside of the enigmatic Ronaldo, the most important player for Portugal is center-back Ruben Dias. He’s arguably the best center-back in the Premier League, if not in the world. His presence ties together a talented backline that weighs in as one of the best in Europe on paper. However, Portugal has run into difficulties on defense.

Portugal hasn’t had a clean sheet since November. It conceded at least two goals in all four of their 2024 friendlies before a 3-0 win over Ireland. The most troubling was their 2-1 loss to Croatia, where the potent midfield of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović, and Mateo Kovačić carved up Portugal’s defense. Dias’ performance will be vital in Germany, especially with a young defensive core and an inconsistent midfield.

The Key Question

There’s been a lot of controversy over Ronaldo’s presence in the national team. Former manager Fernando Santos benched Ronaldo during Portugal’s knockout round games in the 2022 World Cup — a 6-1 win over Switzerland and a 1-0 loss against Morocco.

“Today I would make the same decision,” Santos told The Guardian. “It was a tactical decision. Me and my team discussed it and thought it was the right decision. It wasn’t an easy decision but the right decision. But I was always convinced that he could come on and change the game.”

He’s since been reintroduced into the national team under new manager Martinez, scoring ten goals in ten appearances since the World Cup. But Ronaldo’s aging. His playstyle has shifted from working as a dynamic winger to playing as the target man. The question of how far Ronaldo can take Portugal is the most important going into Euro 2024.

That question rests on both Ronaldo’s ability to play like he isn’t 39 and Portugal’s ability to create chances. Ronaldo is one of the most elite finishers in the world, and he showed that by scoring 44 goals in 45 appearances for Al-Nassr. If Portugal’s creators like Rafael Leão, Bernardo Silva, and Bruno Fernandes can easily create chances for the marksman, Portugal can score in droves. If it fails in that regard, Martinez could look towards Diogo Jota or Gonçalo Ramos, both of whom can play several different positions.

Group-stage schedule at Euro 2024

Portugal vs. Czechia, June 18, Euro 2024 (FOX)

Portugal vs. Turkey, June 22, Euro 2024 (FOX)

Portugal vs. Georgia, June 26, Euro 2024 (FOX)


Euro 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Euros!
Euro Bracket: Download a free PDF bracket for the tournament
Euro 2024 Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Euro games live in 2024
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer