A Guide To Football In Portugal

Like its many European counterparts, football has an extensive and storied history in Portugal. The nation’s favourite sport has been played for hundreds of years. While the current generation relates to Cristiano Ronaldo more than any other Portuguese player, the names of Luis Figo and Eusebio are also well-known. However, even before these players put Portugal on the global football map, the sport had become very popular in the country.

However, surprisingly, despite having produced some of the best football players in history, Portugal has been, for the most part lagging behind its superior European counterparts, while the country’s youth squad has achieved impressive success in Europe and the rest of the world. But more on that later; let’s first explore how football has evolved in Portugal over time.

History of football in Portugal

Football first arrived in Portugal in the mid to late 1800s, when Portuguese students studying in England returned to their country with a newfound interest and a drive for the sport. In the years that followed, football quickly became popular throughout the country and became the favourite sport.

The first organised football game was held in Portugal in 1875 in Madeira by Harry Hinton, who had brought a football from England, where he was studying. The spread of the sport in the country can be attributed to the Pinto Basto brothers, who ordered footballs from England and distributed them to military units to help spread its popularity and familiarise the locals with the sport.

The first football club in Portugal was formed in 1892, Club Lisbonense, founded by the Pinto Basto brothers and other pioneers who shared a love of the sport. The club played its first game against an English team from Carcavelos. Soon more clubs were formed, followed by the organisation of more matches and, eventually, the establishment of regional football associations. 

In 1914, three regional associations in the country merged to create a national association called the União Portuguesa de Futebol. This association eventually became the predecessor of the Portuguese Football Federation, the present-day official governing body for football in the country.

In the 1900s, Portugal’s attempt to integrate its colonies led to the induction of many African players into mainland football teams. The increasing popularity of football in the colonies prompted many individuals to take up the sport professionally. In the past, many top players from Portuguese colonies have represented the country internationally in the national team and clubs. 

Portuguese National football team

The Portuguese national football team has been playing internationally since 1921. The team played its first international match against Spain in Madrid. The national team’s first prominent performance in a major international tournament was in the 1966 World Cup, where it reached the finals. The team also made it to the UEFA Euro semi-finals in 1986, eventually losing to France. 

The national team’s peak era was in the 1990s when it began to feature consistently in the European Championship and the World Cup. The team made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2006 and finished in 4th place. It was also the runner-up at the Euro 2004 and reached the tournament’s final in 2000 and 2012. At that time, the likes of Rui Costa and Luis Figo were a part of the squad and helped the team succeed. 

Portugal won the final of the Euro 2016 by beating France and reached the FIFA Confederations Cup, where it finished in 3rd place. The country also hosted the Nations League in 2019 and won the final against the Netherlands. With Cristiano Ronaldo on the squad, this was the team’s second major victory in a short time. In the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Portugal reached the quarter-finals, where it lost to Morocco. Currently, the Portuguese national team is in 9th place in the FIFA rankings. 

Domestic football competition in Portugal

The Primeira Liga is the highest level of domestic football competition in Portugal. It comprises the country’s big three clubs, including the FC Porto, Sporting CP and SL Benfica. It was formed in 1938, and currently, it has 18 teams.  The current champion of the league is FC Porto, which won its 30th title this year. However, the most successful team is the SL Benfica, which has won the title 37 times. 

The Primeira Liga follows and promotion and relegation system with the Liga Portugal 2, formed in 1990. It is the second-highest professional football division in the country and comprises 18 teams. The premium football tournament in Portugal is Taca de Portugal. It is open to professional and amateur clubs from the top four league divisions in the country. The current champion of the 155th edition of the tournament is FC Porto, while the team with the most wins is Benfica. 

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