We continue to provide, in reverse alphabetical order, the profiles of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—today it’s Portugal.
The Navigators are participating in their eighth World Cup overall and their sixth in a row. They placed third in the 1966 World Cup, fourth in 2006, and exited in the Group Stage or Round of 16 in the others. Portugal had a memorable 3-3 match against Spain in Russia 2018 and won both the 2016 Euro, and the inaugural Nations League 2018-19. In Cristiano Ronaldo, they have one of the all-time greats playing in what is likely his last World Cup at age 37 (but don’t be surprised if he shows up in USA 2026, age 41).
Placed in Group H with Uruguay, Ghana, and South Korea, the Portuguese are confident they will top their group in progressing to the Round of 16. Uruguay were made to play in the World Cup and will bring a mess of new talent to Qatar. South Korea also have a number of up-and-coming players plying their trade in Europe to finally offer Son Heung-Min some support. So, only Ghana seem easy pickings. But Portugal is on a mission to give their iconic talisman as good a chance at the chalice as they can and the team they have at their disposal is, position-by-position, as strong a roster as there will be in Qatar this November-December. Expect Portugal to progress in first place from their group and then meet a strong Swiss team in the Round of 16.
Portugal has been inhabited continuously for well over 45,000 years. The country’s 35,603 square miles share the Iberian Peninsula with Spain and leave Portugal as the westernmost nation of Europe. It is mountainous in the north and mostly rolling plains in the south. Its climate is Mediterranean, a temperate maritime climate with yearly temperatures averaging in the 50F-64F range. It is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic that dates its first establishment as a country to 868 and its current constitution to 1976. Portugal is Portuguese speaking, has a population of 10.3M, a GDP of $420B, an HDI of 0.866 (very high), ethnically it is 88.5% Portuguese, and it is 84% Christian. Portugal has long played a global role in history and is famous for its maritime exploration and empire from Henry the Navigator to Vasco da Gama, and from Pedro Alvares Cabral to Ferdinan Magellan, to its many colonies which span the globe from Macau to Angola to Brazil. Portugal also has a long literary tradition dating to 1350, internationally recognized wines, and is one of the most visited countries in the world.
Squad @ 10pt (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Diogo Costa (Porto), Rui Patrício (Roma), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), and Rui Silva (Real Betis); Defenders—Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Gonçalo Inácio (Sporting), Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), Nuno Mendes (PSG), Jose Fonte (Lille), Pepe (Porto), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), David Carmo (Braga), and Domingos Duarte (Granada); Midfielders—Danilo Pereira (PSG), Joao Palhinha (Sporting CP), Matheus Nunes (Sporting CP), William Carvalho (Real Betis), Ruben Neves (Wolves), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Moutinho (Wolves), Otávio Monteiro (Porto), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) and Vitinha (PSG); Strikers—Joao Felix (Atlético Madrid), Andre Silva (RB Leipzig), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Rafael Leao (AC Milan), Gonçalo Guedes (Valencia) and Ricardo Horta (Braga).
Path to Qatar
Portugal got to Qatar the hard way. They were placed in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A with Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, and Azerbaijan. Needing only a draw at home against Serbia in the last game of the qualifiers and having temporarily obtained that result all the way up to second half stoppage time Serbia scored the winning goal at the last gasp to clinch the automatic bid and push Portugal into the UEFA playoffs. But there had been a refereeing mistake earlier in the match when what would have been at the time the go-ahead goal, by Ronaldo, was incorrectly disallowed. The referee subsequently apologized for what replays clearly showed was a fair score, but it was too little too late.
Portugal was placed in Path C with Euro 2020 (2021) Champions Italy, North Macedonia, and Turkey. This time fortune smiled down on Portugal as after defeating Turkey 3-1, the Portuguese found that Italy lost 0-1 to North Macedonia who moved on to contest the bid against Portugal. In the final match, Portugal won 2-0 and clinched their passage to Qatar.
Portugal traditionally plays a 4-4-2 which has recently become a 4-3-3 given their embarrassment of riches on the offensive side. Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandez, Joao Felix, Renato Sanchez, Rafael Leao, Andre Silva, Goncalo Guides, and Ronaldo can populate three stellar offensive lines. The issue, as always, will be their weak link—uber-conservative coach Fernando Santos. If he chooses to play defensively, his predilection, the Portuguese will progress from the Group Stage and maybe the Round of 16, but thereafter they will fade in short order; but Santos chooses to play offensively, allowing his creative young guns to mix up with their elders, this team could be an unstoppable offensive juggernaut and go all the way.
Aside from the menu of offensive stars listed above, Portugal has Joao Cancelo, Nuno Mendes, Raphael Guerreiro, and Diogo Dalot in defense, Rui Patricio, Rui Silva and Diogo Costa as keepers, and Joao Palhinha, Vitinha, Ruben Neves, William Carvalho, and the evergreen Joao Moutinho in midfield. Again, a plethora of choices, and none of them are bad. Santos simply had to place the right team and have them gel in time to make the splash their talent allows in Qatar.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The Portuguese are not mentioned in the same breath as the English, Argentines, French, Germans, or Brazilians, but talent-wise they are a good match for any of those tournament favorites. In an imaginary progression, Portugal would move on comfortably from Group H to meet a Swiss team they should beat. In the quarterfinals, they would meet Belgium, their second big opponent after Uruguay, and again the Portuguese have the guns to win that even higher-level match-up.
If all goes to the pundits’ expectations, their next opponent would be France, a team Portugal matches up with well and who will likely be without the services of Paul Pogba due to his knee surgery. This is make-or-break game number two and with the final in their sights, it will be their biggest World Cup win. Then they will meet the survivor of the Germany-Brazil-Argentina side of the bracket, and we will be treated to a final for the ages. Papa’s prediction for the final comes much later, though.