POR v SVN, Euro 2024 round of 16: Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. brace for underdog Slovenia

Portugal’s talented squad led by captain Cristiano Ronaldo will be under scrutiny when it steps on to the Frankfurt Arena pitch to face underdog Slovenia in their Euro 2024 Round-of-16 clash on Monday.

Despite finishing top of Group F with six points, Portugal stumbled to an unexpected defeat against lowly Georgia that raised many questions after it arrived in Germany with high expectations as one of the odds-on favourites to win the title.

Even though the defeat came with Portugal fielding a second-string side, it was still led by Ronaldo and was never able to get a foothold against a Georgia team which seemed to enter every challenge as if it was its last.

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Georgia played locked down with a deep back five, a defensive style that has been causing headaches for Portugal manager Roberto Martinez.

It was reminiscent of the match against the Czech Republic in its Euro opener, when Portugal had to dig deep to fight back and snatch a 2-1 victory with a stoppage-time winner.

It is also similar to the approach Slovenia is expected to take on Monday — a disciplined, deep back five who offer little space, and explosive counter-attacks from long balls.

In March, Portugal struggled against Slovenia who gave Martinez his first defeat after 12 games in charge since taking over from long-time manager Fernando Santos following a disappointing loss to Morocco in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals.

Slovenia won 2-0 in Ljubljana in a friendly which saw Portugal have almost 75 percent of possession but appear clueless on how to beat its rival’s back-five. It ended up getting caught in quick counters, much like it did against Georgia on Wednesday.

Martinez led Belgium’s golden generation of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Vincent Kompany to No. 1 in the world and third place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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However, his Belgium side was also a major disappointment at the 2022 finals in Qatar when it was knocked out in the group stage after finishing third behind Morocco and Croatia.

Now, Spaniard Martinez has a similar responsibility with Portugal and must help its talented squad to reach its potential and shake off the underachiever tag that seems to dog them already.

Monday’s game, with Ronaldo on a mission to keep breaking records and a squad that need to make a statement on the big stage, will be the perfect chance to prove its critics wrong as Portugal seek its second European Championship title.

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