Monday, July 15, 2024

Portugal v Slovenia: Pepe targets Selecao improvement after Georgia upset

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 29 Jun 2024

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After Portugal ended the Euro 2024 group stage with a shock 2-0 defeat to Georgia, centre-back Pepe knows more will be required when they face Slovenia in the last 16 on Monday.

That defeat did not stop the Selecao topping Group F and landing a round-of-16 draw against Slovenia, who qualified as one of the best third-placed finishers.

However, they are now on the same side of the knockout bracket as France, Belgium, Germany and Spain, and know they will likely have to beat multiple heavyweights if they are to go all the way.

At their last major tournament, the 2022 World Cup, Portugal set the record for the biggest margin of victory in a last-16 match at the World Cup or Euros, trouncing Switzerland 6-1.

They were, however, beaten 2-0 when they last met Slovenia in a friendly in March, leading Pepe to expect a tough test.

“Portugal were among the best teams statistically in the group stage,” he said. “From the first game here in Germany to the last, the fans have always been with us.

“We know it’s going to be a very difficult game, not least because of our recent history.

“It’s about avoiding making the mistakes we made in that defeat back in March so that we can come out on top.

“We know it’s going to be a very difficult journey. It’s going to be tough, but we all have to be together.”

This will be Slovenia’s first-ever match in the knockout stages at a major tournament, and the 26th such match for Portugal. Since their triumphant Euro 2016 campaign, Portugal have lost three of their four knockout matches at major tournaments (one win).

They will once again look to Cristiano Ronaldo to carry the attacking burden, though this is the first major tournament in his career in which he failed to net in the group stage, in his 11th participation overall.

Pepe, however, has told fans not to worry about the form of their captain.

“Cristiano lives for goals, that’s a fact. But have you seen his availability on the pitch to help the national team? It’s incredible,” the 41-year-old said.

“He’s the player with the most minutes in our team, at 39 years old.

“He’s doing very well. He’ll do very well in the final stages of the European Championship. I’m certain he will give us a lot of joy.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo has not scored in any of his last seven appearances for Portugal at major tournaments, his longest-ever drought at the World Cup and Euros. He has had 19 shots without netting in those games since scoring versus Ghana at the 2022 World Cup.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has had 12 shots worth 1.32 expected goals (xG) so far at Euro 2024, twice as many attempts as his nearest rival in the Portugal squad – Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes (six).

Nine of his shots have come from inside the box, indicating he is taking up the right positions and is likely to break his goal drought soon.

He has also created six chances for his team, recording one assist to take the all-time European Championship record outright, with seven in his six participations.

Slovenia – Andraz Sporar

Slovenia have only netted two goals at the tournament thus far, but their strike duo Sporar and Benjamin Sesko have been a handful for defences.

They may both be awaiting their first goal at Euro 2024, but they have registered a combined 12 shots between them (seven for Sporar and five by Sesko).

Five of Sporar’s seven efforts have come from inside the area, and he has a total xG figure of 0.98 in his three matches. He has also won 13 duels overall, four of them in the air, demonstrating his willingness to get through plenty of defensive work.

MATCH PREDICTION: PORTUGAL WIN

The Opta supercomputer has given Portugal a 76% chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. Ahead of the first set of knockout fixtures, only England and Spain (both 82%) were seen as more likely qualifiers.

Despite their slip-up against Georgia, which came with a much-changed starting lineup, Portugal ranked second for both possession share (67%) and total shots (53) in the group stage, behind Germany (69%, 57 shots).

Their defeat on matchday three halted a run of 12 consecutive wins in competitive action. However, they have not lost back-to-back competitive matches since Euro 2008, when they lost 0-2 to Switzerland in the group stage and 2-3 versus Germany in the quarter-finals.

Another player to watch in Selecao colours could be Vitinha, who leads all of his team-mates for line-breaking passes (29) at this tournament.

His pass completion rate under high pressure is also the highest of any player for his country (90% – minimum 50 attempted).

The Paris Saint-Germain man is brimming with confidence and his quality could be key against a Slovenia side likely to dig in, just as they did in group-stage draws with Denmark and England.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Portugal – 67%

Slovenia – 19.6%

Draw – 13.4%

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SoccerNews

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