To say the qualification for the European Championship 2024 has been a cakewalk for Portugal would be an understatement. The Seleção have dominated their Group J matches, winning all six of them and scoring an impressive 24 goals while maintaining a clean sheet.
A victory against Slovakia at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto tomorrow will secure Portugal’s spot in Germany next summer with three matches to spare.
However, coach Roberto Martínez anticipates a challenging game. “If we analyze the game in Bratislava, Slovakia outperformed us in the first half,” he stated.
“It wasn’t that Portugal played poorly. Slovakia displayed aggressive play without the ball, shutting down our passing lanes. We faced a tough time, but improved in the second half.”
Ronaldo back in action
The 1-0 victory against Slovakia was followed by a resounding 9-0 triumph over Luxembourg in the Algarve, providing Martínez with some interesting choices for the upcoming matches. Although Cristiano Ronaldo was suspended and did not start in the second match, it would be surprising if the captain is not included in the initial XI tomorrow.
“There is always speculation about the starting eleven, but with five substitutions allowed and the game against Bosnia on Sunday, this is crucial for me,” said Martínez.
“We are determined to perform at our best tomorrow. There are no easy games, that’s for sure. Our players have exhibited the right attitude and exceptional commitment, which has contributed to our six consecutive victories. This creates the platform for them to showcase their talent.”
Two players who will be absent from both matches are Braga forward Ricardo Horta and Bayern Munich left-back Raphaël Guerreiro. They were initially selected for the double encounter but had to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
João Neves: A natural fit for the Seleção
One player who may make an appearance is the rising star of Portuguese football, João Neves. The 19-year-old Benfica midfielder has been called up to the senior squad for the first time, and he has already made a strong impression on the national team coach.
“I believe João Neves was destined to play football. He was meant to represent the Seleção,” Martínez praised.
“What I’ve seen is a player who possesses natural talent and enjoys every minute on the field. I admire his energy, professionalism, and confidence. It’s as if he has been part of the national team training camp before, which indicates his immense potential to reach a world-class level.”
Predicted starting XI against Slovakia (4-2-3-1):
Diogo Costa, Diogo Dalot, Rúben Dias, Gonçalo Inácio, João Cancelo, João Palhinha, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, Rafael Leão, Cristiano Ronaldo
By Tom Kundert
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