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Analysis-Soccer-Portugal keep it simple after Martinez’s experiment

By Thomson Reuters Jun 22, 2024 | 3:06 PM

By William Schomberg

DORTMUND, Germany (Reuters) – Portugal coach Roberto Martinez seems to have settled his selection dilemmas for Euro 2024 by reverting to a more conventional shape in a comfortable 3-0 win over Turkey on Saturday.

After fielding an experimental team in Portugal’s often chaotic 2-1 opening win against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Martinez went for a back four protected by Joao Palhinha who returned in midfield for the second group game.

Portugal arrived in Germany billed as one of the tournament favourites buoyed by 10 wins in their 10 qualifying matches.

But the abundance of talent in the squad has created the temptation to tinker for Martinez.

He started the match against the Czech Republic with three full backs, including Joao Cancelo who roamed all over the pitch, and ended it with five strikers as Portugal chased – and got – a last-gasp winner.

On Saturday, the stability provided by Palhinha – and his half-time replacement Ruben Neves – plus the more familiar roles for the rest of his side provided the foundation for a solid Portugal performance against a disappointing Turkey for whom star winger Arda Guler only appeared as a substitute.

Asked by reporters about the shape-shifting appearance of Portugal, Martinez said he was able to change his approach thanks to the strengths of his players.

“It is important to have a tactical flexibility so we can balance the individual talent that we have,” he said.

Guaranteed top spot in Group F, Martinez can rest some of his key personnel for Wednesday’s game against Georgia after which Portugal will take on a third-placed side from another group in the last 16.

Despite the impressive qualifying campaign, some critics have continued to question the credentials of Martinez – a Spaniard who took over as Portugal coach in January last year – after he failed as coach to turn Belgium’s best crop of players in a generation into a tournament-winning side.

While Saturday’s display against Turkey went almost without a hitch, Portugal did not match the scintillating football displayed by their Iberian neighbours Spain who beat Croatia and Italy in their opening two matches in Germany.

One issue which dogs the Portugal team is whether Cristiano Ronaldo, 39, should remain an automatic choice up front.

On Saturday, Ronaldo went some way to quieting that debate when he generously rolled the ball to Bruno Fernandes to make it 3-0 when he could have scored himself, taking his number of assists in Euro tournaments to a record eight.

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Pritha Sarkar)