Portugal Back with Martínez as Coach, Ronaldo in the Squad

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
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Portugal Back with Martínez as Coach, Ronaldo in the Squad

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)

It’s a new era for Portugal as it begins European Championship qualifying under a new coach.

Portugal starts its Euro 2024 qualifying campaign at home against Liechtenstein in Group J on Thursday, with Roberto Martínez debuting as coach and Cristiano Ronaldo still in the squad.

It will be Ronaldo’s first appearance with Portugal since leaving Europe for Saudi club Al Nassr after a mostly disappointing stint with Manchester United. He is set to break the all-time record of appearances with a national team after tying Bader Al-Mutawa’s mark of 196 outings for Kuwait during last year's World Cup.

Martínez is taking over Fernando Santos, who quit in December after Portugal’s elimination by Morocco in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Santos left amid the controversy of benching Ronaldo in the knockout stage of the tournament in Qatar.

Santos was in charge of Portugal for eight years, leading the national team to the Euro 2016 title — the country’s first major trophy — and the 2019 Nations League title. He reached an agreement with the federation to leave two years before his contract was to end.

Martínez ended his six-year stint with Belgium after the team’s disappointing group-stage elimination at the World Cup. He arrived pledging to respect Ronaldo’s history with the national team.

In addition to Ronaldo, Martínez will inherit a squad filled with talented players such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Gonçalo Ramos and João Félix. The coach made few changes to the squad, with 40-year-old defender Pepe also returning to play alongside the 38-year-old Ronaldo.

“We were briefly introduced to him on the training field,” Félix said about Martínez. “He explained to us some of his ideas, mainly for these two games, which are going to be very similar. He talked about the attacking dynamic, the connections between wingers and strikers.”

Félix downplayed Portugal’s chances in the matches against Liechtenstein and at Luxembourg on Sunday.

“We always have to be prepared and not take any game lightly,” he said. “We have the recent example of the World Cup, when everyone thought we were going to get past Morocco and we didn’t. It’s always complicated, it’s always the best from each country, and everyone plays each game like it is a final. All games will be difficult, both at home and away. We have to be cautious.”

Portugal is unbeaten against Liechtenstein, with six wins and a draw in seven matches.

Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifying group also includes Iceland, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The top two nations from each of the 10 groups qualify for the final tournament in Germany.



Germany Looking to Book Spot in Euro 2024 Knockout Stage with Another Win against Hungary

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)
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Germany Looking to Book Spot in Euro 2024 Knockout Stage with Another Win against Hungary

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smiles during press conference of the German national soccer team in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (dpa via AP)

Germany faces Hungary on Wednesday in Stuttgart in their second Group A match. Germany tops the group after beating Scotland 5-1 in the opener while Hungary lost 3-1 against Switzerland. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts:

— Victory for Germany would all but guarantee a spot in the knockout stages and it would definitely advance if Switzerland also beats Scotland in the other group match.

— Another defeat would not end Hungary’s chances as it could still claim one of the four best third-place spots up for grabs.

— Germany is winless in its last three meetings against Hungary and was beaten 1-0 in the last game between the two teams, in September 2022.

— Germany had to twice come from behind when the teams met in the group stage at the last European Championship. That was the teams’ first competitive meeting since the 1954 World Cup final, won 3-2 by West Germany.

Team news:

— Hungary coach Marco Rossi is hopeful French-born midfielder Loic Nego will have recovered to face Germany after he was only fit for a place on the bench against Switzerland.

— Germany has reported no injury concerns.

By the numbers:

— Germany’s five goals scored against Scotland leaves it just one short of its best-ever group stage tally at the European Championship, when it scored six at Euro 2020.

— Hungary midfielder Ádám Nagy, who turned 29 on Sunday, could make his eighth tournament appearance if he plays against Germany. That would be a new record for Hungary, breaking the joint mark Nagy holds with former captain Ádám Szalai.

— Germany’s victory over Scotland saw the team win its European Championship opener for a record-extending eighth time.

What they’re saying:

“Hungary is an unpleasant opponent, they can sometimes be wild and they’re difficult to get a hold of. There are a lot of free spirits out there” — Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann.

“We beat them (Germany) in 2022, so I’m sure it will be an extra motivation for them. They’ll be thinking: ‘Not again.’ But it’s clear from the first game that this Germany side is a completely proposition to what they were back then or even last year.” — Hungary forward Martin Ádám.

“On the pitch you felt how every single one of our players was annoyed that we conceded. That is a good sign. Scoring goals is nice, but we are thinking defensively and want to have stability at the back.” — Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.