Skip to contents
Internationals

Portugal Is Still All About Ronaldo, Even When It Shouldn’t Be

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal during the UEFA Nations league match between Portugal v Spain at the Estadio Municipal de Braga on September 27, 2022 in Braga Portugal.
David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

It’s almost time for the 2022 World Cup. To help get you ready, we will be providing you with precious information about every team in the tournament. You can read all of our World Cup previews here.


OK, let’s cut through the bullshit here and get to the point. This is not about Portugal. It’s about Cristiano Ronaldo, who made it all about him in a grand new way when he waited until the domestic break to have a slash all over his Manchester United experience by blurting out in tabloid headline size despair, “(Erik Ten Hag) Has Betrayed Me.” At a time when the national team ought to be the center of his public expression, he has decided purposefully and with malice aforethought to roll a fragmentation grenade beneath the throne of the most yammered-about domestic team on earth. It’s “Look At Me, Damned You!” on a level that Kyrie Irving can only imagine.

As it affects the Seleção das Quinas, it only means that it is now the Seleção das Ronaldo, as Ronaldo will be even more the center of attention on this monotheistic side than he would have been under normal circumstances. He will be the only player anyone will look at or talk about or reference or even think about, which will be kind of a drag because this is a team with people worth watching when Ronaldo’s perpetual Hello Kitty face is dominating the screen. His years-long rivalry with Lionel Messi about who is the greatest player on Planet Number Three will never end, but the people taking his side of the argument are now significantly fewer. Since that is all he actually cares about (he’d like Portugal to win the World Cup, but mostly so he can send a fresh middle finger to United, one that doesn’t require the intervention of the reptilian Piers Morgan), he will play hard. He will not, however, be nearly the player he once was, and he will demand endless service while doing only some of what those demands require.

In other words, he will be a lot less enjoyable to watch than we are accustomed. Ronaldo the fun-suck is not a thing anyone should look forward to, even though his team is the putative favorite in Group H, which has its own ghosts for the Portuguese. Their H-mates, South Korea, Ghana and Uruguay were Portugal’s last opponents at the 2002, 2014 and 2018 World Cups respectively, and the Seleção fell profoundly short in each. If he can make the United brass miserable, sure, but we’re not betting on it.

Who Is Their Main Guy?

Not paying attention, I see. It’s right there in the above graf, you flannel-faced bobblehead.

Who Is Their Main Scoring Guy?

Yes, it’s probably him, but in fairness it probably ought to be Bernardo Silva, part of the Manchester City Planet Eaters.

Silva has become more of an orchestrator from the right wing than he used to be, though, and while he is excellent at it, much of that orchestration is likely to go to Ronaldo, who doesn’t build his own momentum the way he used to. Without Diogo Jota or Pedro Neto, out of the side with injuries, more of a burden will likely fall on Ronaldo’s erstwhile (erstwhile because the betting is that Ronaldo has pulled his last duty for Manchester United) mate Bruno Fernandes, but one suspects that burden won’t fall on him because Ronaldo will become even more heliocentric than he already is, which is almost brain distorting to imagine. So yes, it’s the same answer again, and yes, it probably shouldn’t be. Frankly, when it all shakes out, as it inevitably does, it might be . . . well, see the tease below.

Where’s The Beef?

Which teams or players does Portugal not like? Do Portugal’s players like each other? We investigate their potential enemies.

The Portuguese have reason to hate everyone in the group given their mutual history, and lord knows the Portuguese will enjoy Spain’s own issues (excellent midfield, a bit dodgy on either end of the field), but it hasn’t really had a historic foe since giving up its dreams of empire a century ago. Portugal minds its business for the most part, leading the European continental defense in case the Azores revolt against the mother country and lead an invasion eastward.

There is always the possibility for internal discord given Ronaldo’s agendae, and manager Fernando Santos is largely considered to have done little with much, which means they might end up hated by their own fans, but by and large the Portuguese are peace-loving hail-fellow-well-met types. In other words, if you buy one of them a drink, they’ll buy you one back.

Most Likely To Go David Ospina Or James Rodríguez Mode

Who is Portugal’s best candidate for a breakout performance that earns them a career-changing transfer? Might this potential post-tournament transfer go well, like when Colombia’s James Rodríguez went to Real Madrid after starring in the 2014 World Cup? Or could it go poorly, like when Colombia’s David Ospina went to Arsenal after starring in the 2014 World Cup?

Rafael Leão, the Milan left winger who works the other side of the street from Silva, is becoming the most fascinating young’un the Portuguese have. This is a side with familiar names everywhere (we would be remiss not to mention João Cancelo, Nuno Mendes and Rúben Dias on the back line), so Leão seems like the best choice for the buy/sell game. He is a magnificent dribbler and has a gift for rooting out workable shots from unworkable angles, so it would have been fair to list him as the best scoring option if one were permitted on this team. He is being targeted by several Premier League sides including Chelsea and both Manchesters, and if he asks nicely, Ronaldo will probably give a glowing recommendation to Man City—assuming he either still hates Manchester United or hates Leão, in which case he could think of no greater condemnation than giving him a steer to Old Trafford.

David Ospina Mode Probability Score: 59.5

James Rodríguez Mode Probability Score: 21.

Fun Geographical Fact

As the second of the two Iberian Peninsula countries, Portugal has either the sea or the Spanish as neighbors—there is no clear indication that they care much one way or the other about Andorra. But the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover Japan, or if you must, the first Europeans to be discovered by Japan. It also has the world’s oldest bookstore, and Lisbon is at least 400 years older than Rome, which may explain why Barnes and Noble colonized it rather than Italy.

Good Flag Or Bad Flag?

Flag of Portugal.

There’s plenty of stuff going on here, like the armillary sphere and the five shields with the dots that allegedly represent the five wounds of Christ, but for you less churchgoing folks can also represent Yahtzee. It pops well enough, though the coolest part of the whole ensemble is the castle array, especially the two castles tilted at 45-degree angles, presumably to celebrate fortifications built on fields of pudding. Verdict: Good.

Good Anthem Or Bad Anthem?

A Portuguesa is a pretty standard anthem as these things go, which is too bad given the fact that fado is more rhythmic and therefore more danceable. Then again, your anthem is going to be a little somber when the lyrics include phrases like “Against the cannons, march on, march on,” which is quite possibly the worst advice you can give someone. “Against the cannons, flee to safety, you silly bastards!” would be a considerable improvement. Points for getting in and out in 95 seconds.

Notable Moment In World Cup History

Eusébio’s brilliance in the 1966 World Cup got the Portuguese their best finish ever, a semifinal run which ended when they lost to the host English 2–1. Until Ronaldo, it was generally agreed that Eusébio, who scored nine goals in that tournament, was the finest Portuguese player ever.

It must be noted here that the Jules Rimet Trophy for winning the championship had been stolen months earlier and was only found a few months before the event wrapped in a newspaper and dropped into a bush to be found by an intrepid dog named Pickles. It is not known what Pickles did to the trophy before the humans showed up.

How Can They Win The World Cup?

Three avenues are available here. One, we are all wrong about Ronaldo’s sell-by date and he is 26-year-old Ronaldo with all the creativity, power and young legs for one more month before being sent on a free to Millwall at the transfer deadline. Two, the rest of the side creates its own cohesive standard and finally adds up to the sum of its parts, winning the group, then whipping Serbia, Belgium, England and in the final … Qatar. Trust us here, the fix is in.

Recommended

Can Brazil Be Brazil Again?