World Cup 2018: Analyzing the chances of a much-changed Portugal team in Russia
The winds of change are blowing and it seems that Portugal is already looking at life beyond Russia 2018. This is probably the best way to describe the 23-man squad named by manager Fernando Santos for the FIFA World Cup.
Shocking and impressive at the same time were the bold decisions taken by the manager to drop certain illustrious names that had been disappointing for their clubs. Instead, club form and future potential have been taken into consideration and this Portugal team looks good enough (on paper) for at least a quarter-final berth.
Even amid the euphoria of winning Euro 2016, even the most ardent fan of A Seleção das Quinas as the Portuguese national team is known would admit that the victory was largely unexpected and came in a style that was uncomfortably similar to Greece’s at Euro 2004 (ironically hosted by Portugal).
Coach Santos shocked a lot of pundits by dropping the ever-present Nani (the third most capped player in Portugal’s history), the hero of the Euro 2016 final against France; Eder and the Barcelona pair of Nelson Semedo and Andre Gomes. A Portugal team to a major competition without these four would have been unimaginable a few months ago.
A look at the squad picked by Santos shows a nice mix of experienced players, middle-aged players who have been around the team for a while and a collection of exciting young talent who have come through the youth ranks.
Starting from the defence, Sporting Lisbon’s Rui Patricio is expected to be the country’s numero uno pair of safe hands at Russia 2018. Alongside second choice goalie Beto (Goetzpe), it is expected that this edition of the FIFA World Cup will be the last time both appear for Portugal at a major competition. Olympique Lyon’s Anthony Lopes is the third goalie on the list and will have to be content with a squad place for now.
Portugal’s first choice trio for the centre-back positions have a combined age of 105 and 215 caps between them. Pepe (Besiktas), Bruno Alves (Rangers) and Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang) are a formidable trio that has seen it all and while short on pace, it’s a trio that is long in tournament experience, strength and knowledge of the dark arts. Benfica’s Ruben Dias is the most promising young centre-back in Portuguese football presently and will see the tournament as a learning experience.
The full-back options are quite interesting as it’s an area that Portugal is experiencing a recent boon in quality after a barren spell dating back decades. Cedric Soares (Southampton) and Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City) will provide zip, pace and good crosses from the right while Raphaël Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund) and Mario Rui (AS Roma but spent last season on loan at Napoli) will look to do the same from the left-back area.
Continuing with the theme of old and young, central midfield is filled with experienced campaigners: Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco), Adrien Silva (Leicester City) and there is a surprise recall for former wunderkind Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow). Complementing the old guard will be the powerful but skilled William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon) and Joao Mario (Inter Milan but spent last season on loan at West Ham). Shining young-uns Bernardo Silva (Portugal) and Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon) are expected to provide the guile, creativity and game-changing passes from midfield.
Record caps holder, record goalscorer, and team leader; captain Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) will be leading the attack and on his broad and well-toned shoulders will rest Portugal’s hopes of lifting a first-ever FIFA World Cup.
Old boy Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas) will be providing the ammunition (and a few goals) from the flanks and he will be ably assisted by tryos Goncalo Guedes (PSG but spent last season on loan at Valencia) and Sporting Lisbon’s Gelson Martins.
He may have bombed in his first season in Italian football with AC Milan but the paucity of striking options available to manager Santos coupled with his undoubted talent means that Andre Silva is the only traditional centre-forward in the Portugal team.
While this team may not be as star-studded as certain other teams that will be at the World Cup e.g. Spain or Germany, its collective strength, the managerial abilities of Santos and the world-class talent of Ronaldo and a few others means that Portugal can be confident of making a good impression in Russia.