It’s crunch time in UEFA 2024 European Championship qualifying, although most of Europe’s elite teams have already claimed their tickets for next summer’s tournament in Germany.
As one of nine teams to have sealed qualification for the upcoming Euro 2024, Portugal head into their last two qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Iceland seeking a historic milestone.
Roberto Martinez’s side have won maximum points after eight matches in Group J and could execute their first-ever perfect Euro qualifying cycle if everything goes according to plan.
The Selecao have netted a jaw-dropping 32 goals and are one goal away from delivering the most prolific Euro qualifying in the nation’s history after reaching this threshold in 2000.
Martinez has heavily relied on his free-flowing duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes to inspire the Euro 2016 winners to an outrageous qualifying campaign.
Only Belgium captain Romelu Lukaku, the only player to have hit double digits, has scored more goals in the tournament than the 38-year-old Al-Nassr talisman, who has stuck nine.
While Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Slovakia are not the most formidable opponents, it takes nothing away from Portugal’s scintillating form under Fernando Santos’ successor.
It’s barely a surprise they boast the best scoring record in the competition, knowing they have fired more shots on goal (138) and had more attempts on target (62) than any other team.
Portugal’s conversion rate has been insane, as 47% of their shots on target have finished in the back of the net, with only Scotland (60%) and Italy (48%) turning more attempts into goals.
But for argument’s sake, they’ve made a combined 43 shots goalwards, 19 fewer than Portugal.
Another noteworthy takeaway is that only three of Selecao’s 32 qualifying goals have come from the spot, with Ronaldo putting all three spot-kicks away.
Despite extending his record-breaking international haul to 127 goals, the former Manchester United forward isn’t the most prolific player in the current cycle.
His former clubmate Fernandes has made the most goal contributions, racking up five goals and seven assists en route to soaking up the limelight as the competition’s standout performer.
The 29-year-old playmaker hasn’t played a part in a goal only twice in eight Euro 2024 qualifying appearances.
Fernandes’ most eye-catching performance came on Matchday 6 as Portugal humbled Luxembourg 9-0, with the Man Utd skipper scoring a goal and registering a hat-trick of assists.
Elsewhere, Lukaku has led Belgium to their third consecutive Euros appearance with ten goals, bagging 59% of his nation’s goals in Group F.
The Chelsea loanee’s impressive scoring exploits put him on par with Ronaldo for the second-most goal contributions behind assist-king Fernandes.
De Rode Duivels’ last Euro 2024 qualifier against Azerbaijan is on Sunday, and it’s hard to put it past Lukaku to sign off in style, especially amid his phenomenal form in the Roma shirt.
With two games left for England, there’s still time for the country’s all-time leading goalscorer, Harry Kane, to overtake the abovementioned trio after mustering seven goals and two assists for the Three Lions.
Gareth Southgate’s side take on Malta at Wembley in their penultimate Group C outing on Friday. That’s a perfect opportunity for the 30-year-old to increase his international tally.
Kane’s confidence going into the last international break in 2023 is at an all-time high after being named the Bundesliga Player of the Month for October.
The Bayern Munich goalscoring machine has been in red-hot form recently, hauling two hat-tricks and a brace in his last three club appearances.
He was on the scoresheet when England thumped Malta 4-0 in the reverse fixture in Ta’ Qali, while his brace inspired the beaten Euro 2020 finalists to a 7-0 win over North Macedonia, their final rival in this cycle.
If Kane can transfer his incredible recent club form to England’s last two qualifiers, then who knows?
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