Portugal World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections

Portugal World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections article feature image

Pictured: Cristiano Ronaldo.

  • Portugal enters the World Cup on the outside looking in.
  • Will Ronaldo and co. muster some magic in Qatar?
  • Read on for a full roster, schedule and tactical analysis of the team.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has arrived, and Action Network's staff of soccer experts are here to take you through each and every team that will be participating. 

Read on for a full breakdown of Portugal ahead of the tournament, and click here for analysis on each of the other 31 teams.

Portugal World Cup Preview

Portugal tasted international glory with their stunning run to the title and upset win against France in the Euro 2016 final. The Portuguese have since underperformed at the last two international tournaments, losing to Uruguay in the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup and then losing to Belgium in the Round of 16 of the Euros last summer. 

On paper, Portugal don’t have many holes and look to be one of the deepest and most balanced squads in the entire world. They have an embarrassment of riches in attacking talent with Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Rafael Leão.

Portugal have often flattered to deceive despite this attacking talent because of the general conservatism of manager Fernando Santos. The lack of ball progression through the midfield and conservative mid-block defensive approach means they’re stuck doing a lot of defending without the ball against other top sides. 

Germany and France both poked clear holes in Portugal with 3.9 xG combined in two matches. Even Belgium – after a fortunate goal to go ahead in the Euros last summer – sat deep and forced Portugal into a lot of long range shots from distance in their futile attempt to equalize.

Chances To…Action Projectionsbet365 Odds
Win Group Stage67.25%-163
Advance To Knockout Round91.14%+550
Win World Cup8.30%+1400
Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.

Then, there’s the Ronaldo situation. He’s going to start up topl based on his career and legacy, but the Ronaldo we’ve seen in 2022 looks like a somewhat diminished version. Manchester United have played better based on xGF per 90 when he’s been off the pitch this season in the Premier League. 

Ronaldo still has good value in shots produced, but he’s just not nearly as active when the ball isn’t at his feet anymore. As a result, Portugal will need Leao, Silva and Fernandes to increase their production from the 4-2-3-1 to make up for it. 

Portugal didn’t play their best in World Cup Qualifying, either. They lost to Serbia on the final day of the group and were sent to the playoffs. After beating Turkey, Portugal dodged a one-leg playoff with Italy after the Italians lost a stunner to North Macedonia. Once the Portuguese rolled over the lesser North Macedonian side, they booked their spot in Qatar.

They did finish with the fifth-best xG created in the entire field, but the defense conceded 0.98 xGA per match, and that was just 11th-best among teams vying for qualification. When you consider the lack of quality in the group as a whole, that raises some questions about what we should expect from them in Qatar.

Group H is a tricky one as Uruguay are flying under the radar coming out of South America and South Korea have been a tricky tournament side. Portugal opens their tournament with Ghana and will be expected to take all three points there. The range of outcomes is wide on this team, depending on the performance of Ronaldo and the midfield behind him.   

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s storied international career may not come to an end in Qatar, but this is highly likely to be the final time he leads the line for Portugal at a major international tournament. He has said he wants to play at the Euros in 2024, but it’s hard to see him as a starter and key man at that point.

The entire attack can’t be built around getting him the ball at his current age. Ronaldo is still excellent at getting on the end of crosses and being a poacher on the shoulder of the last defender. He lacks the breakaway pace and extraordinary athleticism that he once had to beat good defenders off the dribble consistently.

Ronaldo relies more on his excellent positioning and natural instinct to create enough space for himself to get shots. He is still producing about four shots per 90 and has totaled just under 2 xG in about four matches for Man United this season. 

Given the injury to Diogo Jota, Ronaldo will be forced into playing quite a lot of minutes in a short time period for Portugal. How Santos handles his minutes and how Ronaldo responds physically will be crucial for a Portugal side hoping for a deep run in Qatar.

His lack of work rate off the ball at his age is something that Portugal managed to overcome last summer – but you do wonder if better possession teams will take advantage of that later on. 

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Tactical Analysis

Portugal consistently play in a 4-2-3-1 with possession of the ball that drops into a 4-1-4-1 without it as the wingers slide deep and provide more defensive solidity. Tactically, Portugal are a team that can be extremely dangerous in transition. That was on full display in their matches last summer against Germany and France, when they found joy bypassing the midfield and attacking quickly and vertically.

They defend out of a mid-block, which means you won’t see much high pressing or high turnovers forced. Instead, you’ll see them frustrate opponents by conceding possession in non-dangerous areas but winning the ball in their final third and breaking away from there. 

Portugal’s biggest problem was a lack of ball progression when Renato Sanches wasn’t on the pitch last year at the Euros. With an expected midfield pairing of the very defensive William Carvalho and the box-to-box Ruben Neves, don’t expect them to be a ball-progression juggernaut at this tournament, either.

Portugal play more of a direct possession style than most of the top teams in this field. Silva is elite at passing himself, finding pockets of space in between defensive lines. Leao is an elite dribbler and chance creator who’s in the midst of a breakout season at Milan, and he’s likely going to be the primary outlet for Portugal. 

Because Neves and Carvalho are pretty conservative as a midfield pairing, that enables the ultra-aggressive Fernandes to get time and space to play dangerous probing passes.

The problem for Fernandes in this system has come because Portugal can’t progress the ball to him consistently enough to get enough opportunities on the ball. That’s certainly one major key for Portugal in Qatar. They need Fernandes in form and pulling the strings.

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Portugal World Cup Schedule

Ghana11 a.m. ET, Nov. 24
Uruguay2 p.m. ET, Nov. 28
South Korea10 a.m. ET, Dec. 2

Most Recent World Cup Result

Round of 16 (2018)

Portugal came into the 2018 World Cup on the back of a European Championship in 2016. However, all the Portuguese were able to muster was a Round of 16 appearance, where they lost to Uruguay.

Portugal World Cup Roster

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