We’re closing in on the 2018 World Cup, and Portugal will be hoping to be the dark horses once again. Fernando Santos has already guided his side to Euro 2016 glory, and now he’s aiming for the biggest trophy in international football. However, he doesn’t have a huge array of stars in his Selecao squad.
Luis Figo and the rest of the Golden Generation are long gone, and Portugal are dealing with a much thinner squad these days. That means that they’re dependant on a few players as they chase success this summer, but just who do they value the most?
We’ve ran through the spine of this Portugal side and picked out four key stars who are among the first names on the teamsheet. You can probably guess one or two of them, while others are included because of their position in the side. Here are our four key stars for Portugal’s hopes of glory in Russia this summer.
The ageing former Real Madrid man is widely thought to have had his best days come and go. Despite that, he remains a fixture at the heart of Portugal’s back line. He was vital along the way to the final in France two years ago, and the European champions will need to keep Pepe fit if they’re to repeat those heroics.
The Besiktas man is the only centre-half who isn’t facing uncertainty this summer. Ruben Dias is pushing to start alongside him. Both Jose Fonte and Bruno Alves could miss out. None of those are top qualify centre-halves, so Pepe is going to be left picking up some slack there. The vice-captain could hit 100 caps at the tournament this summer, and the experience he’s picked up far will be vital. If he were to get injured, then Portugal’s ability to soak up pressure would be severely hit. We don’t see Fonte and Alves going far as a pair, while Pepe can inspire with his place in the team. In his last ever shot at the World Cup, Pepe is a player Portugal can’t afford to lose.
The Borussia Dortmund man is probably the least well known player on our list, but he’s emerging as a talented option at full-back. With Portugal struggling at centre-half – and being overloaded by choice at right-back – Guerreiro is quickly becoming a constant for the Selecao. In a team built on a solid defensive base, he’s seen as a solid option at left-back. However, he offers much more going forward, allowing Portugal an extra dimension on the break. When they defend that much, being able to break quickly is key.
The Dortmund man is now the default choice at left-back. He’s taken up the position ahead of Roma’s Mario Rui, and we can’t see anyone dislodging Guerreiro any time soon. He’s going to need to pitch in to help Pepe keep things tight at the back this summer, but given his important role in France two years ago, the emerging talent should finally be ready to peak with the national side. Should they lose the left-back to injury, then they’d have a huge hole in their team selection. With no Fabio Coentrao, options are limited on that flank anyway. Losing a player of Guerreiro’s calibre would be a massive blow.
Just slightly ahead of the defence is midfielder William Carvalho. The Sporting man has seemed to be a £40million player for years now, with the likes of Man United and Arsenal chasing him a few seasons ago. He almost made the jump to the Premier League last season, with West Ham chasing him. However, the holding player remains a key man for Portugal, especially as he’s ahead of a creaking defence.
With Portugal’s reliance on their defence, but with issues at the heart of it, protecting the back four will be more important than ever. That’s likely to be a two man job against Spain’s midfield, but Carvalho will be doing it all the way through the tournament. The defensive midfielder has got to take as much pressure off the centre-halves behind him as he can, so he’ll be breaking up attacks were possible. Portugal will end up being swamped in the middle, Given their four man midfield. It’s then that positional sense and energy will be important for Carvalho and his team, as the Sporting man needs to impress from his anchor role, or else the European champions will be in trouble.
Obviously Ronaldo was going to feature in our list. It’s hard to ignore the five time Ballon d’Or winner. While he’s not the most focal for Portugal at the moment, the forward is still a big presence in the side. He didn’t start the only two competitive defeats Santos has had as Portugal manager, and the captain is seen as an influential presence on his teammates. As the country’s top scorer and highest appearance maker, that’s not a huge surprise.
Ronaldo has scored the most goals under Santos – 31 in total, including 15 during World Cup qualifying. He’s been moved in to the centre, playing at the head of their 4-4-2 system. In that set up he’s teamed up with Andre Silva, who Ronaldo has taken under his wing. That’s resulted in a partnership which delivered 24 goals during the qualifying campaign.
He’s been the top scorer in the Champions League for six straight seasons. However, his mixed World Cup record – three goals in 13 appearances over three tournaments – is a worry. However, Portugal are a much stronger side with Ronaldo than without, and they’ll be hoping that he is at his best this summer. With Ronaldo at his sharpest, the Selecao could make another deep run at an international tournament. Miss him, and they could be set for another defeat for Santos without his key man.
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