Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Portugal have finalised their 23 man squad for the 2018 World Cup, and their selection has left out some Euro 2016 winners. Following their 35-man preliminary squad, 12 have been cut from the group, including highly rated Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Ruben Neves.
The former Porto man had been seen to be pushing for a place in the side this summer, but it seems like his time in the second tier of English football went against him. Meanwhile, manager Fernando Santos travels without 10 of the players who won the Euros in France in 2016. That includes Eder, the man who struck the winner in the final.
Following the announcement of the European champions’ final picks for Russia, we’re breaking down the squad by position to look at their strengths and weaknesses as they chase more international success.
Take a look at our predictions on Portugal’s Key Players and Starting 11 this summer.
Rui PATRICO (Sporting)
Anthony LOPES (Lyon)
Portugal are well covered in goal, although we can’t see anyone wrestling the number 1 jersey from Sporting’s Rui Patricio. Their first choice has racked up 68 appearances for his country, making his first World Cup start at Brazil 2014. He went on to become a mainstay, appearing in every Euro 2016 game, keeping three clean sheets in four knockout matches.
Patricio followed that up with three clean sheets in five games at the Confederations Cup last summer. Both Anthony Lopes and Beto have been regulars during strong seasons with their club sides, but with just 19 caps between them, they’re likely to be watching from the sidelines this summer.
Bruno ALVES (Rangers)
Jose FONTE (Dalian Yifang)
Mario RUI (Napoli)
Raphael GURREIRO (Dortmund)
Ricardo PEREIRA (Porto)
RUBEN DIAS (Benfica)
Cedric SOARES (Southampton)
Santos had hoped to take just seven defenders, but a midfield injury affected that. Porto’s holding midfielder Danilo is a versatile member of the squad, and he brought the ability to fill in at centre-half. His injury was a blow to the European champions, forcing them to take an extra man at the back to cover.
Their established centre-half trio of Pepe, Bruno Alves and Jose Fonte were all set to head to Russia, despite having a combined age of 105. Ruben Dias has been the one to take Danilo’s spot, and he’s their only central defender under 30.
While there are issues at the heart of the defence, there are plenty of talented combinations to flank those centre-halves. Portugal had four quality right-backs pushing for this tournament, with Inter Milan’s Joao Cancelo and Barcelona’s Nelson Semedo missing out. Southampton man Cedric Soares started every Euro 2016 knockout game, and he retains his spot in Russia. Fabio Coentrao ruled himself out at left-back, where Napoli’s Mario Rui supports first choice Raphael Guerrerio.
Adrien SILVA (Leicester)
Bruno FERNANDES (Sporting)
William CARVALHO (Sporting)
Joao MARIO (West Ham)
Joao MOUTINHO (Monaco)
Manuel FERNANDES (Lokomotiv Moscow)
With Danilo out, not only did Santos need another defender – he also had to find defensive midfield cover. However, that hasn’t left Wolves’ Ruben Neves with a place in the 23, although he’ll have plenty of chances to feature in later years. Neves seemed like the best back-up for Sporting’s holding midfielder William Carvalho, who will start as a screen in front of the aging defence.
Santos has left behind one of his go-to men, with Andre Gomes missing out after a poor season with Barcelona. Renato Sanches obviously hasn’t done enough following his tough spell in Wales with Swansea. Gomes, Neves and Porto’s Sergio Oliveira were all cut from the original squad, leaving the European champions with only Carvalho as a recognised holding player.
Leicester’s Adrien Silva can do that job, but he is coming off a mixed season in the Premier League. Joao Moutinho is an aging option in the middle, and considering their creaking defence the Monaco man might miss out for a more mobile option. That means the second central spot is likely to filled by either Manuel or Bruno Fernandes.
Both options have been impressive this season, but Manuel Fernandes does have a slight edge. He has been playing in Russia with Lokomotiv Moscow, and that local knowledge could boost his chances. However, Bruno Fernandes is one worth keeping an eye on, after an impressive season with Sporting earned him comparisons with Portugal great Rui Costa.
Andre SILVA (AC Milan)
Bernardo SILVA (Man City)
Cristiano RONALDO (Real Madrid)
Gelson MARTINS (Sporting)
Goncalo GUEDES (Valencia)
Ricardo QUARESMA (Besiktas)
Portugal’s squad has six players up front, although three of those are advanced wingers. That includes Man City’s Bernardo Silva, who has impressed in England without being burdened with too many games. He should start on the right of midfield, with an eye to get forward and support the strikers.
Goncalo Guedes is in a similar boat on the left, although he’s not likely to force Joao Mario out of the side, as he features as a left-midfielder who can slot in centrally. Valencia loanee Guedes has resurrected his career after a torrid time with PSG, while Besiktas winger Ricardo Quaresma may be 34, but he’s coming off one of his best ever seasons.
Up front, the main attraction has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. He’ll partner Andre Silva at the tip of a 4-4-2, with the pair hitting 24 goals in Portugal’s qualifying campaign. The Real Madrid star has a record 149 caps and 81 goals for his country, while his strike partner has impressed on the international stage, with 11 goals in 20 caps. That should show that the Portuguese are more than just a defensive side this time around.
Check out our Potential Breakout Stars at the World Cup, including Goncalo Guedes
Portugal have talent across the pitch, and they have options to change games should they need it. Their impressive options up front will improve them, if they can be adapted in to the defensive structure which saw them claim glory at Euro 2016. The main issue for Santos is out of his hands; injuries.
While an injury could blow any squad’s chances, Portugal are reliant on the fitness of a few key players. The manager has lost just two competitive games in charge, both came with Ronaldo absent. Meanwhile, their defensive structure could be shaken if one of their ageing bodies at the back are ruled out.
Santos has the resources at his disposal to frustrate Spain in their opener, before adding the flair players in for clashes with Iran and Morocco. Since their potential quarter-final meetings are with top-heavy sides France and Argentina, this Portugal side could be equipped for a strong run in Russia. With five semi-final appearances in nine international tournaments in the 21st century, they’ve got a period of success behind them, a run which they’ll be desperate to continue.
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