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Portugal Euro squad 2016 vs 2024: Are they stronger eight years on?

:Headline: Portugal Euro squad 2016 vs 2024: Are they stronger eight years on?:
Sports Mole analyses whether Portugal's Euro 2024 troupe are any stronger than the Selecao's triumphant squad from the 2016 edition.
Sports Mole

Eight years have passed since Portugal's Euro 2016 squad stunned host nation France to claim their country's first major international honours. Unlike some of the Portuguese teams that have preceded and followed it, the class of 2016 was not packed full of stars – though there was, of course, one obvious exception.

Cristiano Ronaldo largely carried the hopes of the nation at the tournament, and while he was not always at his best, he made big contributions when it mattered most. A brace in the final group game against Hungary sealed qualification after a poor showing, while a trademark Ronaldo leap and header broke the deadlock in the semi-final against Wales.

Nani and goalkeeper Rui Patricio were the only other players to start every game for Portugal at Euro 2016. The latter saved Jakub Blaszczykowski's penalty in the shootout win over Poland in the last eight, and made the team of the tournament along with defenders Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro. Impressively, the Portuguese only let in one goal from open play during the knockout stage, compensating for a lack of spark in the final third.

Now, we will look at how the squad and its setup, for better or worse, has changed over the past eight years. And we feel that there is no better place to start than to compare past and present iterations of a man who remains amongst the world's most iconic and star-studded active footballers.

Portugal Euro squad 2016: Then vs Now

The MVP: Ronaldo 2016 vs Ronaldo 2024

In strict 'big-game' terms, it is open to debate just how much of a mentality CR7 has for an international final compared to 2016. He went off injured just 25 minutes into the Euro 2016 showpiece, leaving Eder to instead take the plaudits that comes with a match-winning strike.

Yet, his multitude of Champions League titles across spells at Manchester United and Real Madrid plainly show that he is no bottler, and more often than not lifts the trophy that the 22 players must walk past from tunnel to pitch without touching.

As such, there is no way to fairly conclude how his big-game mentality on the international scene has changed over the past eight years. That leaves us with basic logic and the effects of time, which would dictate that the 39-year-old version of any player would be inferior to the 31-year-old one.

But it is not quite as clear-cut as that when it comes to Ronaldo. At Euro 2016, he was still burdened by the weight of expectation, and the knowledge that he had rarely produced his best football at a major tournament.

Eight years on, and with an international-level winners' medal in his vast personal collection, Ronaldo may be able to play with a bit more freedom. Indeed, we saw evidence of that at Euro 2020, when a five-goal haul marked his best return at this tournament, tying him with Czech striker Patrik Schick for the Golden Boot.

Of course, Ronaldo's movement may not be quite what it was in 2016, and Roberto Martinez may need to manage his workload in Germany, after the forward clocked up 624 minutes in France eight years ago before the injury.

However, there is little evidence that his finishing abilities have declined, with 35 goals in the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League season. Ronaldo also registered 10 goals in Euro 2024 qualifying, putting him second only behind Belgium's Romelu Lukaku.

Based purely on age alone, however, the Ronaldo of 2016 edges it in our opinion.

Score: Portugal 2016 1 – 0 Portugal 2024

Defensive rocks: Pepe vs Ruben Dias

With the exception of a 3-3 draw against Hungary in the group stage, Portugal were very strong defensively at Euro 2016, with experienced centre-back Pepe the leader of the back-line. He had an excellent tournament for a Portuguese side that was perhaps more physical than it is today.

Now 41, Pepe is off to Euro 2024 as by far the oldest outfield player set to feature – although he is not expected to play a big role, with Ruben Dias being the standout centre-back at present.

Dias made 30 appearances in Manchester City's successful 2023-24 Premier League campaign, averaging 1.3 tackles per game and 1.6 aerial duels won. There are few doubts about his qualities, but it is less clear who his central defensive partner will be with youngsters Goncalo Inacio and Antonio Silva considerably less experienced at the top level.

Overall, it looks likely that Portugal will be a bit more suspect at the back than they were in 2016, and that's one potential weakness that opposing sides will look to exploit.

Score: Portugal 2016 2 – 0 Portugal 2024

On the attack: Nani vs Rafael Leao

Further up the pitch, Portugal have more diverse attacking options now than they did in 2016. Nani clocked up more minutes than any other outfielder for Portugal at that tournament, and matched Ronaldo's goal return with three strikes, including the second in the semi-final win over Wales.

Eight years on, it is AC Milan's Rafael Leao who is Portugal's most dangerous wideman, and he is fresh from a good season in Italy that saw him register 15 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. An outstanding dribbler, Leao is surely an upgrade on Nani, and it'll be interesting to see how Martinez opts to use him.

The 25-year-old may operate as a second forward alongside Ronaldo or in a more familiar role wide on the left of a 4-3-3. There is real competition for places in the Portuguese attack though, so Leao may be relegated to the status of impact sub at times during Euro 2024.

Score: Portugal 2016 2 – 1 Portugal 2024

Midfield magicians: Renato Sanches vs Bernardo Silva

Flash your mind back to Euro 2016, and midfielder Renato Sanches was being talked about as one of the brightest young players on the continent with the then teenager appearing in six of Portugal's seven games. In particular, he was earning rave reviews for his quarter-final performance against Poland, after he levelled the scores in the 33rd minute.

Sanches had agreed to join Bayern Munich just prior to the tournament, in a deal that had the potential to rise to €80m (£67.6m). By contrast, Bernardo Silva – who is three years Sanches's senior – was still plying his trade with Monaco in Ligue 1, and had yet to establish himself in the national team, with injury ruling him out of the Euros in any case.

How times change... Silva is currently sitting on 89 international caps, having risen to be a top-class performer for both his country and a domestically dominant Manchester City side. Sanches, meanwhile, has not lived up to the early hype, with the last of his 32 appearances for Portugal coming back in 2021.

With the likes of Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Vitinha, Portugal have much more quality in midfield than they did at Euro 2016, and they rattled in 36 goals during qualifying – seven more than any other team – largely thanks to an abundance of creative quality in the middle of the pitch. That levels the scores between the two Portugal squads, and argues strongly that there is absolutely no reason Portugal cannot go all the way again.

Final Score: Portugal 2016 2 – 2 Portugal 2024

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Read more about Cristiano Ronaldo Raphael Guerreiro Rui Patricio Patrik Schick Roberto Martinez Pepe Ruben Dias Goncalo Inacio Antonio Silva Nani Rafael Leao Renato Sanches Bernardo Silva Bruno Fernandes Vitinha Jakub Blaszczykowski Football
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