Portugal conclude preparations for the defence of their continental crown on Wednesday, as they host Israel at Estadio Jose Alvalade.
Following a goalless draw with Iberian rivals Spain last week, the Selecao now face one final test before meeting Group F outsiders Hungary in their opening European Championship game.
Having beaten hosts France in the 2016 final, after reaching the semi-finals in 2012 – losing to eventual winners Spain on penalties – Portugal are again among the favourites heading into this summer’s much-delayed Euro 2020.
The first of their post-season warm-ups for the main event – versus their 2012 conquerors, in Madrid – ended in an uninspiring draw last Friday. With only one shot on goal (which finally arrived in the game’s final minute) Portugal were ultimately happy to avoid defeat against the nation they will now join forces with, to bid for the right to host the 2030 World Cup.
Still under the watchful eye of veteran coach Fernando Santos, this year, Portugal have made a strong start to their Qatar 2022 qualification campaign, collecting seven points from their first three Group A matches – against Azerbaijan, Serbia and Luxembourg. During the process, several well-established stars continued to lead the way for the Iberians, who are one of international football’s most experienced sides.
As they have faced among the heaviest workloads in European football this term, however, high-profile Manchester-based trio Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes were omitted from the Selecao’s starting lineup last time out, while Santos rotated his abundant resources. The former Greece coach handed a debut to Sporting’s Primeira Liga top scorer Pedro Goncalves (who took the place of Joao Felix, still just 21), while teenage teammate Nuno Mendes also featured from the bench.
Representing a gifted younger generation – which is soon to include several starlets who finished runners-up in the Under-21 Euros at the weekend – a number of new names have emerged to supplement Portugal’s battle-hardened squad, so whichever XI is selected to start on Tuesday will be strong favourites against a far lower-ranked Israel team.
Currently rated the world’s 85th-best football nation – sandwiched between Uganda and Uzbekistan – lowly Israel have shown signs of progress since missing out on Euros qualification after their penalty shootout defeat to Scotland in last year’s playoffs.
Not only did they gain a measure of revenge on the Scots by beating them in the Nations League soon after, but the Blue and Whites had also chalked up an impressive win in Slovakia before coming out on top in their two most recent games: the first of which was a 4-1 victory over Moldova in World Cup qualifying, while the second – just last week – was a 3-1 win in Montenegro.
Star men Eran Zahavi, of PSV, and Shakhtar Donetsk winger Manor Solomon were both on target in Podgorica, keeping momentum building ahead of their clash with the reigning European champions this Wednesday.
Undoubtedly, coach Willi Ruttensteiner will now use this opportunity to fine-tune Israel’s tactics for the resumption of the Qatar 2022 qualifiers in September, where they are contesting a well-balanced group, also featuring three Euro finalists: Austria, Denmark and familiar foes Scotland.
Portugal International Friendlies form:
Portugal form (all competitions):
Israel International Friendlies form:
Israel form (all competitions):