Thoughts and analysis of the latest Portugal squad
Fernando Santos once again sprung a few surprises in his latest Portugal squad, once again leaving out the experienced Joao Moutinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, while Eder returns to the fold.
Ronaldo, who missed the last squad in a bid to maintain fitness and continue training at new club Juventus, remained a question mark in the build-up to the announcement, but was widely expected to be omitted from the squad with reports from Portugal emerging in the hours before the press conference that claimed he would be left out. Fernando Santos confirmed that there is no reason why Ronaldo can’t go on to give his input for the national team once again in the future though.
Moutinho, Quaresma, Fonte?
There is a clear and not so subtle nod to the future with the selection chosen by Santos. Moutinho, Quaresma and Fonte - constants in Santos’ team over the past couple of years - were all once again overlooked, in favour of younger options such as Pedro Mendes, Gedson Fernandes and Bruma. But will they be brought back in the future?
There’s no doubt in my mind that Moutinho will go on to represent Portugal several more times in the future; Portugal’s third most capped player in history is only 32, playing at the top of his game and has been a stand-out performer in a highly talented Wolves side. The partnership he has forged with Ruben Neves in the centre of the park at club level is one that you would expect Santos to test out for the national side at some point in the future, and he is still one of the best central midfielders in the national pool.
His exclusion from the side once again is something of a surprise, but by no means a shock. Santos knows exactly what Moutinho can do, as does the whole nation, and his ability is something nobody can question. There is no need to call upon someone as good as him in friendly fixtures and for a competition that is still to gain the prestige of the other major competitions Portugal take part in. So, in many ways, leaving him out to maintain his fitness and keep operating at his peak performance level for Wolves is probably a good idea, allowing him to then return later in the season for Euro 2020 qualifiers.
While the same could be said for Jose Fonte, his omission, in many ways, comes as more of a surprise. Having featured in all but one of Lille’s Ligue 1 matches this season, Fonte has been a top performer for the club, and has helped his side, who finished just one point above the relegation zone last season, to an incredible 2nd place spot in the table early on in the season, only behind big-spenders PSG.
While the 34-year old could be left out for similar reasons to Moutinho, Portugal’s centreback is not blessed with as much strength in depth as the centre of midfield, so Fonte both merited a call-up and could have been of great use to Portugal for the clash with Poland as backup to either Pepe or Dias. It would have also been a good statement of intent from Santos to reward form and show that, regardless of age, a spot in the national team can always be on the cards. Is this the last we have seen of Fonte in a Portugal shirt? I certainly don’t think so.
But for Quaresma, one can’t have quite as much confidence. One of the most talented players Portugal have ever had, the 35-year old winger does not have age on his side, and with an abundance of talent in the wide areas of the pitch, the competition for a place in the squad couldn’t be much greater. If he is overlooked even when the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rony Lopes are injured and Gelson Martins is not included due to lack of game time, you can’t say with absolute confidence that he’ll make a return to the international scene, which would be a great shame.
That said, with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Bruma, Rony Lopes, Helder Costa, Goncalo Guedes, Gelson Martins, Rafa Soares and Diogo Jota some of the young options Portugal currently have to choose from, the scene is set and ready for the future stars to replace the old guard.
Helder Costa set for debut
The absence of Gelson Martins, who has struggled for game time since joining Atletico Madrid, coincides with the inclusion of someone who has been given an abundance of minutes, with Helder Costa set to make his debut at senior level for the national team. And few can complain about Santos’ decision to include the Wolves winger. Having started every single match in the Premier League this season, Costa has shown confidence and talent that merits a chance to express himself on the international stage and, while his inclusion is likely only a cameo role for the national team, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Rony Lopes, Gelson Martins and Ricardo Quaresma potentially ahead of him in the pecking order for ‘competitive’ fixtures, it is a great opportunity for him to give Fernando Santos an even further selection headache for the future and show that he deserves to represent the European Champions.
With him included, it means that three members of the team play for Wolverhampton Wanderers, with undisputed number one Rui Patricio and playmaker Ruben Neves also in the side.
The return of national hero Eder
Eder secured his place in eternal history with his low, powerful strike in the 109th minute of that clash with France, in Paris, on 10th July. A date ingrained in the memory of every Portugal supporter around the world. And, while he hasn’t really had a look-in since those heroics, his inclusion doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Portugal only have one out-and-out striker that is playing regularly in one of Europe’s top 4 leagues - Andre Silva - and Eder is the next in line to fill his boots should anythign happen to the Sevilla star. And he has done more than enough to re-enter the fold. His bullet overhead kick only last week for Lokomotiv Moscow to help his side to a cup victory was the cherry on the cake as the Portuguese legend has cemented his place up front for the Russian champions, featuring in both the league and in the Champions League.
No room for Anthony Lopes
Perhaps surprisingly, Lyon number one goalkeeper Anthony Lopes has been left out of the side again, that is despite playing in 6 of Lyon’s 8 league matches this season and in both of the side’s Champions League outings, but Santos has ultimately chosen Tondela’s Claudio Ramos instead, who is yet to make his debut for Portugal.
While some could say that it is a nod to the future, Lopes himself is only 28, only 2 years older than Claudio Ramos, while veteran Beto, who is now 36, is also included. Whether this is an indication that Lopes has fallen out of favour with Santos remains to be seen, while we wait with anticipation to see if Ramos finally makes his senior international debut.
Youthful midfield and four defensive midfielders
At the World Cup, we saw experienced midfielders such as Manuel Fernandes, Adrien Silva and Joao Moutinho included in the squad, while experimentation is certainly the focus of Fernando Santos’ thinking for the UEFA Nations League, with these three replaced by the likes of Gedson Fernandes, Renato Sanches and Ruben Neves, a far younger trio of midfielders entrusted this time around.
And it does make a lot of sense; with this competition not a huge priority in the grand scheme of things, while also being a good opportunity to add another trophy to the cabinet and secure a backup route for Euro 2020 qualification, choosing highly talented players that don’t boast quite the same international experience as their predecessors is excellent for their development and comes with very minimal risk, with all three central midfielders more than capable of holding their own against both Poland and Scotland. As such, we watch with interest as to how they perform on the senior stage.
Meanwhile, Portugal’s squad also contains four ‘defensive’ midfielders in William Carvalho, Danilo Pereira, Sergio Oliveira and Ruben Neves. An interesting choice from Fernando Santos by all accounts, although with William Carvalho utilised as more of a roaming midfielder in the last match, given far more freedom to roam forward than he has done previously, almost playing in front of both Ruben Neves and Pizzi in the middle of the park, he could easily be utilised alongside two of Neves, Danilo and Sergio should Santos desire, which would allow for excellent defensive solidity, great control of midfield, and also enough technical ability and creativity to link up the defence and attack in transition phases.
What do you think of the Portugal squad? Is there anyone missing that you would like to have seen included? Is there anyone included that you don’t think merits the opportunity? Have your say!