Preview: England vs. Portugal
It will be the first outing for either side since their squads for this summer’s tournament were finalised, although Portugal do have one more friendly before they get their campaign underway.
By the time England kick off against Portugal on Thursday, it will be just four days before they travel out to France and bid to end their 50-year wait for international honours.
This match represents the final chance for Roy Hodgson to have a look at his chosen 23 in a game before they get their campaign underway against Russia on June 11, and the England boss is therefore expected to name something resembling his first-choice team.
Danny Drinkwater, Andros Townsend and Fabian Delph were the unfortunate trio to be cut from Hodgson’s squad, which means that Marcus Rashford will travel to France just three months after making his debut for Manchester United.
The 18-year-old striker made history in England’s last outing when he became the youngest player to ever score on their Three Lions debut, breaking the deadlock after less than three minutes against the Socceroos.
England went on to win 2-1 for a second successive friendly, but as with the Turkey match five days prior, it was mainly a case of failing to kick on from a bright start and there is certainly still work to be done for Hodgson.
Even so, they have now won four of their last five outings, including victories over France and Germany – the two favourites for Euro 2016 – and it is only two defeats in their last 21 games since their World Cup exit at the group stages two years ago.
Expectations are high that they will comfortably surpass that showing this summer, with England rated by the bookies as the fourth favourites to go all the way behind only the hosts, the world champions, and the defending champions Spain.
Russia, Wales and Slovakia are the teams who will also be vying to progress out of Group B, and with one or two places in the starting XI still seemingly up for grabs, many fringe players will be keen to make the most of any chance they are handed on Thursday.
The Three Lions have won 11 of their last 12 home matches, and return to Wembley for this game having faced Turkey and Australia in Manchester and Sunderland respectively in their other two warm-up contests.
Hodgson has lost just three of his 21 previous games as England manager at Wembley, winning 16 of those, but the priority for this match will be to iron out any remaining issues ahead of the trip to France on Monday.
Recent form (all competitions): LWWLWW
Portugal are also ramping up their preparations for Euro 2016 this summer, and arrive at Wembley for just their second warm-up game.
Ronaldo did not enjoy his best 120 minutes in a Real Madrid shirt in Milan, but still managed to score the decisive penalty in the shootout as Los Blancos claimed their 11th European crown at the expense of city rivals Atletico Madrid.
It was a reminder of the sprinkling of stardust that manager Fernando Santos has at his disposal, and while Ronaldo is undoubtedly the lead act for the Seleccao, the likes of Pepe, William Carvalho and Renato Sanches provide an able support act.
Still, they sit just seventh in the list of favourites to lift the trophy and claim their first major international honour this summer, despite being drawn in arguably the kindest group of the lot at Euro 2016.
Portugal will begin their campaign against Iceland on June 14 before subsequent matches against Austria and Hungary, and while recent defeats to the likes of Russia, Bulgaria and even the Cape Verde Islands last year suggest that they are not among Europe’s elite at the moment, they will still expect to reach the knockout stages.
They were relatively comfortable during qualifying for the competition, overcoming a worrying start when they were beaten at home by Albania in their opening match to win the rest of their seven outings and top the group by seven points.
Their form has been mixed since then, with the aforementioned defeats to Russia and Bulgaria being followed by victory over Belgium – a team currently ranked as the second best in world football.
They have an impressive recent record away from home too, winning seven of their last eight internationals on the road, which could stand them in good stead this summer.
Santos’s side will take on Estonia back at home next Wednesday before making the trip to France, where they will look to improve on their disappointing showing at the 2014 World Cup when, like England, they were eliminated in the group stages.
Recent form (all competitions): WLWLWW
Ronaldo will be missing for the second Portugal friendly in a row after being given extra time off following the Champions League final, while club teammate Pepe has also been granted some additional rest.
Former Manchester United winger Nani could be handed a start in Ronaldo’s absence, while in defence Southampton duo Cedric Soares and Jose Fonte should continue, alongside former Chelsea man Ricardo Carvalho.
William Carvalho is likely to be in holding midfield should Santos opt to name a strong side, while new Bayern Munich signing Sanches will be hopeful of getting a chance from the start.
Kane’s club teammates Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose all sat out against Australia and may be brought back into the side, although the latter two face competition from Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand.
Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge all proved their fitness to Hodgson before the May 31 deadline to choose squads and should be handed some game time in order to gain more match practice before the tournament begins.
Hodgson must also make a decision as to whether he plays with a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond, but in either scenario captain Wayne Rooney is expected to start for the first time in the warm-up games.
England possible starting lineup:
Hart; Clyne, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Wilshere, Sterling, Rooney, Vardy; Kane
Portugal possible starting lineup:
Lopes; Cedric, Fonte, R Carvalho, Guerreiro; Mario, W Carvalho, Sanches; Quaresma, Eder, Nani
Head To Head
These two sides have not faced each other for almost 10 years, when Portugal knocked England out of the 2006 World Cup on penalties at the quarter-final stage – a match best remembered for Rooney’s red card and Ronaldo’s subsequent wink to the bench.
The 120 minutes ended goalless in that game – the fourth successive draw between these two sides – and England have only won one of their last 11 meetings with Portugal, with eight of those ending all square and the most recent two seeing England beaten on penalties.
It is a far cry from England’s eight wins in the first 11 meetings between the nations, although the Three Lions are unbeaten in their last nine friendlies against Portugal (D5 L4).
Portugal have made seven previous trips to face England at Wembley, scoring only three times and last finding the back of the net in 1995.
We say: England 2-0 Portugal
These two sides are at slightly different stages of the Euro 2016 preparations, with England now finalising their first-team side and Portugal still looking at options amongst their squad. The absence of Ronaldo for the visitors cannot be ignored either, and with England also enjoying home advantage we can see them making it a hat-trick of wins from their warm-up games.
Source: Sportsmole – Euro 2016