The World Cup is largely unpredictable. While we can debate the favorites and generally get a feel for which nations should go furthest, we never know how things will actually turn out. For instance, no one can predict a result like Germany’s 7-1 destruction of Brazil back in the summer of 2014. What we can do, however, is look at the potential path for each team, not just in the group stages but beyond.
Here’s our take on the most difficult way this could play out for Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese national side.
The Group Stage
The group stage fixtures are the only bit of the tournament that’s set in stone, and show Portugal in action on June 15th against Spain, on June 20th against Morocco, and on the 25th against Iran. It’s a path that’s widely viewed as manageable, if not without challenges, for a talented Portuguese side. While, again, anything can happen, it’s that first match that’s likely to determine group finishing order. That is to say, either Spain or Portugal will probably win Group B, with the other being a favorite to advance as runner-up. And since we’re examining the toughest possible path, let’s assume Portugal finishes as the second place team in Group B.
Round of 16
Group B is paired up with the relatively weak Group A in this knockout stage, which is fortunate for Portugal (and Spain). The possible matchups should Portugal advance include Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, though it’s those first two teams that are expected to advance. The odds would say that if Portugal advance as the Group B runner-up, its toughest (and likeliest) opponent would be a Uruguay team coming off a Group A win. Though we shouldn’t count out Egypt entirely. Star striker Mohamed Salah is already being written about as a potential game-changer in Group A!
If Portugal were to get out of its group as runner-up and then past Uruguay, its next toughest opponent is actually fairly easy to determine. It would be lined up to play either the winner of Group C (almost certainly France) or the runner-up from Group D (which could legitimately be any of Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, or Nigeria). Predicting things a few matches in is a tricky prospect, but the most difficult road clearly goes through France, which is right there with Germany and Brazil as an overall tournament favorite.
Moving forward, Portugal would most likely be set up for a semi-final duel with Brazil. The four possible opponents at this stage include the Group E winner (probably Brazil), the Group F runner-up (likely Mexico, Sweden, or South Korea finishing behind Germany), the Group G winner (Belgium or England) and the Group H runner-up (any of Poland, Senegal, Colombia, or Japan). That’s a lot of teams vying for position, but among them, Brazil and Belgium are the best sides, with Brazil standing a tier above. Going by the toughest road, that’s the matchup.
Without getting into the details, the toughest team remaining for a potential World Cup final would be Germany – again, a team among the favorites. So just to recap, it appears the full outline of the most difficult route through the Cup for Portugal includes group play, Uruguay, France, Brazil, and then Germany – not exactly a stroll in the park.
Fortunately for Portugal supporter’s Ronaldo’s form and penchant for heroics seem about as sharp as ever, so there’s no counting out this kind of dream run for the national side.