Portugal: Soccer's greatest 'small' country

By Mike Woitalla

Perhaps because Portugal has fielded some of the greatest players ever to grace a soccer field -- Eusebio, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo -- it’s easy to forget that Portugal is an overachiever in the soccer world.

Before the 2014 World Cup, then Portugal coach Paulo Bento pointed out that, with a population of only 10.5 million, Portugal faces a challenge competing with traditional powers such as Spain, Germany, Brazil and Argentina.

“Portugal doesn’t have as big a pool of players to pick from as those four nations … even so, results have been extremely positive in recent years,” Paulo Bento said. “We were semifinalists at Euro 2000 and at the 2006 World Cup, while we reached the final of Euro 2004. Given the size of our country and the number of players we can pick from, it’s very positive.”

Lack of depth certainly hurt Portugal at the 2014 World Cup, which Ronaldo entered with a knee injury after helping Real Madrid win the UEFA Champions League. Portugal exited the World Cup in Brazil at the group stage because of an inferior goal difference to the USA in Group C.

Four years ago, at the 2014 European Championship, Portugal beat the Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic before losing to Spain in the semifinals in a penalty-kick shootout.

But at Euro 2016, under Coach Fernando Santos, Portugal won its first title, beating host France, 1-0, in overtime despite losing Ronaldo to a knee injury early in the first half.

Much had been made of Portugal scraping its way through the Euro 2016 group stage with three ties and leading only once in seven games after 90 minutes. But in a tournament plagued by defensive soccer -- a dismal average of 2.12 goals per game -- Portugal actually provided more offense than most of the 24 teams.

Over seven games, Portugal equaled France’s 121 shots for a 17.29 per game average. Yes, Portugal struggled in group play, but its 63 shots were 20 more than France took in its first three games. Iceland may have been the media darling of Euro 2016 while Portugal took heaps of criticism, but when the two teams met in their 1-1 tie, Icelandic keeper Hannes Halldorsson made 10 saves while Rui Patricio, besides giving up a goal, did not face another shot on target.

The final marked Portugal’s third overtime game of the tournament and it defeated the team that eliminated World Cup champion Germany.

Champion Euro 2016
Runner-up Euro 2004
Third place World Cup 1966
Fourth place World Cup 2006
Semifinals Euro 2012
Semifinals Euro 2000

Uruguay, with only 3.5 million residents, won the 2011 Copa America and finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup. Chile (17.6 million) is two-time Copa America champion.

The Netherlands (population: 16.8 million) has long been admired as a small nation that produces world-class players and competes for titles. But the Dutch failed to qualify for Euro 2016, losing twice to Iceland.

Now, Portugal deserves the title as the world’s greatest small soccer nation.

14 comments about "Portugal: Soccer's greatest 'small' country ".
  1. Francisco Marcos, July 12, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.

    First fair analysis of Portugal I've read in a US publication..

  2. Carlos Rocha replied, July 12, 2016 at 8:25 p.m.

    Really. Nacao valente. ☺

  3. Carlos Rocha, July 12, 2016 at 9:07 p.m.

    To Your point Soccer America, Portugal scored 6 goals out of 7 total games in and of regulation time. Not to mention goals in overtime. What are they complaining about? It is Soccer not Basketball.

  4. John Soares, July 12, 2016 at 10:22 p.m.

    Goals can be fun... for the fans. I would rather win 1-0 than loose 5-4.
    In South Africa Portugal only aloud 1 goal in four games (1-0) to Spain. It was enough to send Portugal home. Spain went on to win the Cup. Nobody complained that Spain was a low scoring team.

  5. R2 Dad, July 13, 2016 at 1:33 a.m.

    I'm happy for Portugal--always the bride's maid--but this only happened because France collapsed in a heap under the pressure, much like England. The main concern is that defensive, cynical, park-the-bus soccer won out over more attractive play, and what message this sends to teams/fans/countries around the world ahead of 2018.

  6. Hugo Rojas replied, July 13, 2016 at 9:21 a.m.

    Completely agree. Good to see new champions. I just hate the way they did it. If this game were just about results all anyone would need to do to become a fan would be to check scores the next morning.

  7. Hugo Rojas, July 13, 2016 at 9:17 a.m.

    I don't think the article supports your conclusion at all. Portugal is nowhere near Uruguay. Uruguay is much smaller, regularly produces more players to the top leagues. It has 15 Copas America, 2 world cups, 2 Olympic golds, 6 or 7 Libertadores, more WC appearances that Portugal ... all with less than 1/3 of Portugal's population. I will concede that perhaps Portugal deserves to be considered in the same category, but the greatest? Not even CR7 believes that.

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2016 at 9:53 a.m.

    Uruguay is impressive but those world cups are ancient history, especially 1930. Most of the top countries at that time didn't even go. The 2010 world cup semi appearance followed by the Copa the following year are far more impressive achievements.

  9. Hugo Rojas replied, July 13, 2016 at 10:15 a.m.

    Yeah, 1930 is ancient. I mentioned it more to make a point about achievement relative to Portugal. They are light years away from each other. This Euro is title is commendable but does not put them at the same level. By the way, I am not Uruguayan.

  10. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 13, 2016 at 11:21 a.m.

    I admire Uruguay and appreciate what they've accomplished with so small a population. I don't put much value in the old WC wins but their recent successes are great. Plus, unlike Portugal, they are actually enjoyable to watch.

  11. Fire Paul Gardner Now, July 13, 2016 at 9:51 a.m.

    Please - as a neutral they were horrible to watch. They won one game out of 7 in 90 minutes and didn't even attempt to play football in the final. This kind of thing can happen in tournament football but it's not something that people outside of Portugal are going to celebrate.

  12. Carlos Rocha replied, July 13, 2016 at 3:51 p.m.

    Nacao valente...

  13. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 14, 2016 at 10:38 a.m.

    Not sure what that means.

  14. Carlos Rocha, July 17, 2016 at 9:35 p.m.

    Look it up.

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