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Portugal the team to beat in Czech Republic?

Boasting the only 100% record in qualifying, Portugal go to the Czech Republic as major contenders. Nuno Tavares picks through the strengths and weaknesses of Rui Jorge's men.

Portugal saw off the Dutch 7-4 on aggregate in their play-off
Portugal saw off the Dutch 7-4 on aggregate in their play-off ©Getty Images

The only team to win all their matches en route to the finals, Portugal received a strong warning that things will not be quite so easy in this summer's tournament in the Czech Republic, when a goalless draw with fellow finalists Denmark in Marinha Grande last Thursday was followed by Tuesday's 1-0 Prague defeat by their future Czech hosts.

The Portuguese, who had already lost 3-1 to England in November, may seem out of shape with less than three months to the tournament's kick-off, but there is no shortage of quality in Rui Jorge's outfit. With the UEFA European Under-21 Championship on the horizon, here is a rundown on their strengths and weaknesses.

New faces, old problem
Rui Jorge was not a worried man after seeing his side fail to score for the first time since March 2013, but the former FC Porto and Sporting Clube de Portugal left-back told his players they will not be able to repeat the same mistakes at the finals, especially in front of goal. "We missed a lot of chances in these two friendlies and against the Czech Republic we were eventually punished for that. We simply cannot make these kind of mistakes. At this level you need to be more efficient when it comes to converting your opportunities," he said.

Rui Jorge, the man in charge
Rui Jorge, the man in charge©FPF/Diogo Pinto

The fact Portugal continue to struggle to find a goalscoring striker certainly does not help, yet Porto's Gonçalo Paciência is shaping up very nicely in that department and will lead his country's attack.

Solid as a rock
While goalkeeper José Sá plies his trade in CS Marítimo's reserve team and may lack experience at top club level, he will be Portugal's No1 in June, with his strong presence giving confidence to the back four. Portugal's five-goal leading marksman in qualifying, winger Ricardo was used as a right-back against Denmark – a position he has already filled for Porto – and he could well be deployed there in an attack-minded side.

Absent from the two friendlies due to injury, Raphael Guerreiro has caught the eye in France with FC Lorient and will aim to shine on the left of the defence, with Paulo Oliveira and Tiago Ilori in the centre.

Rúben Neves is the heartbeat in midfield
Rúben Neves is the heartbeat in midfield©Getty Images

Plenty of options
If the likes of Rúben Neves (Porto), Bernardo Silva (AS Monaco FC), Ivan Cavaleiro (RC Deportivo La Coruña), Rony Lopes (LOSC Lille) and Bruma (Galatasaray AŞ) have created excitement and huge expectation in Portugal concerning possible success at the finals, the precocious talents are taking a cautious approach. "We are not raising the bar too high. We'll take it one game at a time, like we have done so far, and then we'll see what happens. Our first goal is to advance to the knockout stage," Rúben Neves said. It remains to be seen if the anticipation and pressure to win will prove too heavy a burden.

Trio may be the key
Portugal are already being hailed as one of the strongest candidates on show in the Czech Republic, and that status could receive a boost in the shape of three crucial reinforcements. William Carvalho, João Mário and André Gomes all figured in qualification yet are now part of Portugal's senior squad, so the question remains whether Rui Jorge will be able to call on the three influential midfielders.

"That is a matter that will need to be analysed. There's no question how good they are, but like I said, it is too early to talk about that. Cristiano Ronaldo was also eligible to play in this tournament in 2007 but the decision made was not to call him," remembered the 42-year-old.

William Carvalho would be crucial addition
William Carvalho would be crucial addition©AFP/Getty Images

Is this Portugal’s new golden generation?
U20 world champions on two occasions, Portugal are yet to win this competition, their best run coming in 1994 when a team containing Rui Costa and Luís Figo lost the final to Italy. Can this latest batch of skilful prospects go one better and claim the honour of being considered Portugal's new golden generation?

If it comes down to quality and desire, Portugal appear to have what it takes to lift the trophy. "Of course I've dreamt of holding the trophy in my hands. I cannot wait for the first match," Ilori said. If his side can rediscover their qualifying form, it would be a brave man to bet against the defender achieving the dream.