There's something admittedly strange about saying that a player who has played for Manchester United and Real Madrid, won many domestic titles, the Ballon d'Or, and three Champions League titles is an underdog. But that's precisely what we're looking at as we consider Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, who face Gareth Bale and Wales, another great underdog story, later today. (There's also something horrifying about building up any team that Pepe plays for as a feel-good story, but we'll leave that for another day.)
Wales's underdog status is well-established, of course. They've never competed in the European Championships before and their only World Cup appearance came in 1958. Despite their outsider status, their performance this year has been a sight to behold, particularly when set next to their larger English neighbors. That said, Portugal's own status as an underdog is not talked about nearly as often even if, by any reasonable standard, Portugal is something like the Southampton of international football.
Here are the facts: Portugal's population is 10 million. Their GDP is $227m. In other words, they have one million fewer people and a GDP slightly smaller than that of Greece. And in the past 15 years, here's a list of players they have produced (asterisks indicate players who have a Champions League winner's medal):
- Ricardo Carvalho*
- Fabio Coentrao*
- Paulo Sousa*
- Rui Costa*
- Tiago Mendes
- Raul Meireles*
- Joao Moutinho
- Luis Figo*
- Cristiano Ronaldo*
Here's the crazy thing: The least respectable names on that list are probably Coentrao, Meireles, Moutinho, and Nani. But even those four players at their peak were good enough to be in the match day squad for a Champions League-caliber squad.
And the more respectable names on the list? In Pepe you have a mainstay in the Real Madrid squad for many seasons. Paulo Sousa won two Champions League titles, one with Juventus and one with Dortmund. Rui Costa was a star at Milan during the early 2000s and also won a Champions League title. Deco was the heartbeat of the Barcelona midfield before Xavi. And then you have two of the most dynamic attacking stars of the past 25 years in Figo and Ronaldo.
Again: Portugal has slightly fewer people and a slightly smaller GDP than Greece. Greece's best recent products are a couple capable defenders and a guy currently plying his trade at Rayo OKC.
So yeah, Wales is a great underdog story, but so is Portugal. You might not like their star man—and I for one don't blame you that much if you don't—but if Portugal somehow wins this competition, it's not hard to argue that theirs is the best underdog story of this year's European Championships. (Also before you trash me in the comments: Eric Dier is a Sporting Lisbon product. Every Spurs fan should love Portugal.)
On to the links:
The FA has reduced the fines that Chelsea and Tottenham will receive for their conduct during the testy match at Stamford Bridge last May. Mousa Dembele's suspension, unfortunately, was not reduced.
The Express has linked us with Newcastle midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
If you don't understand the recent European Commission ruling about Spanish clubs receiving illegal state aid, Dermot Corrigan's post helps clear things up.
This graphic review of the Premier League's new branding for the 2016-17 season is interesting.
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Carli Lloyd's thrilling hat trick in the final of the 2015 World Cup.
Ever wondered why the German national team sometimes has green kits? Bundesliga Fanatic has the answer.
Enjoy this Vine of one American man responding to Lloyd's third goal last year: