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Cristiano Ronaldo swapping Real for Juventus? Not so fast

Cristiano Ronaldo
 By Tom Kundert

Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Portugal to success in tough Group F?

Portugal face Austria, Iceland and Hungary in Group F. Here's a look at their squad and how they will fare at Euro 2016.

At a glance

With a good mix of youth and experience and coming off the back of a seven-win run in competitive play, Portugal will surprise many with a positive performance at Euro 2016.

Home view

Fans and media alike are cautiously optimistic about Portugal's chances. Most expect their tournament to be more similar to the thrilling run to the semifinals four years ago at Euro 2012 than the debacle at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the United States pipped them to the last qualifying place in Group G.

This optimism is underpinned by the emergence of an abundance of exciting midfield talents. The energy, strength, stamina and creativity offered by the likes of Danilo, Adrien, Andre Gomes and Joao Mario, plus the willingness of coach Fernando Santos to play them, contrasts sharply with the stale and predictable side Paulo Bento sent out in Brazil.

Throw in a handful of veterans with a wealth of experience at the top of the game who are still performing admirably and the vibrant support the team will enjoy from the huge Portuguese community in France, and the feeling is that the ingredients could be in place to make this a special tournament for the Selecao.

Star man

Braga forward Rafa Silva was the youngest member of Portugal's 2014 World Cup squad, but he did not see any playing time in Brazil. Two years later, that should change following the attacking midfielder's outstanding club season.

Predominantly right-footed but usually deployed on the left flank, Rafa (as he is known in Portugal) bears uncanny similarities to former Portugal winger Simao Sabrosa. His crafty footwork and speed enable him to get past defenders and hit the byline, but he also likes to cut diagonally into the middle of the pitch, then pick out an incisive pass or go for the goal himself.

Portugal's lack of centre-forward options mean that Cristiano Ronaldo might vacate that position on the field to play as a central striker, at least some of the time, and that could open the way for Rafa to shine. Heavily rumoured to be moving on this summer, Rafa showcasing his skills in France will only open more doors.

Will Portugal rely too much on Cristiano Ronaldo?

Potential pitfalls

The obvious weakness is the lack of a reliable striker, which has big implications on the team setup. Fernando Santos has indicated that he will abandon Portugal's traditional 4-3-3 and play with a mobile front two in a 4-4-2. The major problem with this is that it takes Ronaldo out of his favoured and most effective position as the left-sided forward in a 4-3-3.

Portugal's World Cup campaign in Brazil was ruined by poor fitness, and with the team's two best players of the past six years, Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho, suffering injury issues in the latter part of the season, there is fear that history will repeat itself.

Meanwhile, the first-choice back four in France have an average age of 33, so the team could be vulnerable to fast counterattacks, something you would expect them to face in the group phase, where they will start all three matches as favourites. Left-back Eliseu has enjoyed a terrific season for champions Benfica, but he is still regarded as the weak link of Portugal's defensive unit.

Predicted finish

A semifinal finish is likely. The tournament layout means that should Portugal top their group, they will likely face an extremely tough adversary in the round of 16, Belgium or Italy. Get through that, though, and they should have enough to reach the last four, though they might not have the strength to make the final.

Tom Kundert covers Portuguese football for ESPN FC. Twitter: @PortuGoal1.


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