The shocking defeat against Albania at home last month triggered a revolution of sorts in Portuguese football; Paulo Bento’s reign was over and Fernando Santos – who had been managing the Greek National Team with success for the past few years – took over with the mission of righting the ship and building a strong Portugal team for the Euro 2016, assuming that the new 24-system qualifying is mostly a non-issue anyway. With Santos taking the helm, some players returned to the team too, namely Ricardo Carvalho – unanimously considered Man of the Match in yesterday’s match. It was clear that, for better or for worse, things were going to change quite radically. So far, the start has been promising; a 2-0 away defeat in France in a friendly match doesn’t tell the whole story as Portugal had a very competent performance and France are one of the world’s best teams – not to mention they’ve always been Portugal’s bogey opponent; in fact this was France’s 10th consecutive win over Portugal, including semis and the Euro 1984 and 2000 and World Cup 2006. It can be argued that France are the very reason Portugal are yet to win a major international title, though Greece’s Euro 2004 party-spoiling efforts did play their part as well.

The real test would come in Copenhagen, against a Denmark side that had beaten Portugal in both the World Cup 2014 and Euro 2012 qualifiers; while the performance was far from outstanding, the team was way more solid and focused than they had shown in recent matches and kept the Danish at bay pretty comfortably. Perhaps the draw would have been the fairest result, but when you have a player like Cristiano Ronaldo you’re bound to snatch some wins from the jaws of defeat (or draw) sometimes. Ronaldo proved why he is the leader of the team and argubaly the best Portuguese player of all-time by scoring a magnificent header in the last minute of added time to give Portugal their first win of this qualifying stage and a much needed morale boost for what lies ahead.

Ronaldo led Portugal to victory again in Copenhagen

The challenge for Santos is a big one, Euro 2016 isn’t just another tournament for Portugal: it might very well be the last tournament where they will be able to count on a Cristiano Ronaldo near the peak of his powers – as well as the rest of his generation of players, like Pepe and Nani – , and so far Portugal haven’t been able to put a strong enough team around him to compete for the title at a big event. 2016 might well be the last chance, which gives Santos roughly 2 years to find the perfect formula. So far it seems that his intention is to bring back some older experience players, such as Carvalho, Danny and Tiago while at the same time incorporating young players like Cedric, William Carvalho, JoA?o MA?rio, etc… into the team. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but the change in approach does give reasons to be optimistic; not only that, but Santos has proved its worth at the helm of the Greek National Team, aside from having coached all of Portugal’s Big 3 (Porto, Sporting and Benfica) in the past. He has had a long successful career before undertaking now what is perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: taking his nation to glory. In a group with Albania, Serbia, Armenia and Denmark, you’d expect qualification to be relatively accessible, which gives Portugal time to work on a team for the summer of 2016.

The coming years will be very important for Portuguese football, their ever lasting quest to finally win a big title doesn’t seem likely, but the more problematic thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a new great generation on the horizon. After the golden generation faded into the sunset, Ronaldo’s generation took charge, but now there doesn’t seem to be any natural succession likely to take place. When Ronaldo’s time as an elite player is up, the Portuguese National Team is set to suffer greatly, which makes the upcoming Euro and maybe World Cup, if Ronaldo manages to have even more impressive longevity, absolutely crucial tournaments, they will define whether the Ronaldo era in the Portuguese National Team will be one of success or one of failure.

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