Portugal face an identity crisis ahead of Euro 2016

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The international break brings mixed emotions for European nations. For some, the latest round of fixtures will bring routine wins against vastly inferior competition in a comfortable march towards Euro 2016 qualification while others nervously plot a route to represent their nation on Europe's grandest stage.

For Portugal, the stakes are even higher. On Friday night they face next summer's hosts France in a friendly in Lisbon, before taking on Albania in a qualifier on Monday. Selecao das Quinas precariously top Group I with 12 points, two clear of Denmark and Albania, with the latter also having a game in hand.

The next two matches may not appear a particularly daunting task for a side blessed with individual talent and boasting one of the world's greatest players in Cristiano Ronaldo, but Portugal are suffering from an identity crisis.


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When Albania beat Portugal 1-0 in Leiria in the first game of the qualifying round it not only caused an upset, but also cost coach Paulo Bento his job.

Former Greece manager Fernando Santos came in and started his era by bringing back several former squad staples. Ricardo Carvalho, Bosingwa and Danny all returned, as did Tiago after a self-imposed four-year exile, to restore order.

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That's not to say youth hasn't been given a chance under the new coaching set-up. Attacking left-back Raphael Guerreiro, Sporting's Joao Mario and 21-year-old Monaco prodigy Bernardo Silva have all been involved with the senior side, in between reaching the country's first European under-21 final in June.

However, the mix of young and old hasn't been smooth. Santos' reign has been riddled with single goal wins and unconvincing performances to match. 

The team's perennial problems also persist; the over-reliance on their star man, the lack of pace in midfield, the frailty from set-pieces, the dearth of an effective target man. The return of ageing players shows no signs of addressing these predicaments.

Portugal have become known for complicating relatively comfortable-looking qualifying draws. They needed a play-off win against Bosnia-Herzegovina to make Euro 2012 and needed a sumptuous hat-trick from captain Ronaldo to see off Sweden at the same stage to make World Cup 2014.

The Selecao have a tendency to save their best for major tournaments as shown by a semi-final in Euro 2012, but a repeat performance seems unlikely unless there's an emphasis on defining the squad's long-term persona.

Tactically, the team's set-up is caught between trying to dominate possession to targeting quick winger-reliant counters, both of which struggle to make the most of the collective talent in the squad.

A lack of dependable players in the 26-29 age category also suggests the country is entering a transitional period. The likes of Swansea's Eder and the largely passive Miguel Veloso struggle to command a game in order to let either Ronaldo or the younger players perform.

The country's under-21 performances in the summer bode well, but a clear system to make the team more than just a sum of their parts is needed to turn their potential into on-field performances capable of reproducing their form at senior level.

Portugal not only need to carefully navigate their way through their remaining fixtures to make next summer's finals, they also need to decide what they want to be along the way for any chance of sustained success.

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Cristiano Ronaldo
European News

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