Five players that Portugal should consider taking to the UEFA Nations League
Portugal will face Switzerland in the UEFA Nations League semi-final this June, which will take place in Porto.
It is the first international tournament Portugal have hosted since the Euros in 2004, and with the stakes significantly lower than they were 15 years ago, there's a chance to give some of Portugal's finest youngsters a chance to play for their country.
The vast majority of the squad picks itself, of course. Assuming every player at Fernando Santos' disposal is fit and injury-free, you could say with certainty the names of at least half a dozen players that will get a call-up.
It's no secret that Rui Patricio is the best goalkeeper Portugal have to offer. His inclusion in the team is beyond question.
In terms of centrebacks, you can guarantee that both Pepe and Ruben Dias will be included in Portugal's Nations League squad. Both currently playing in host - and home - country Portugal with Porto and Benfica respectively, that could make a very simple decision for Fernando Santos even easier.
You can also guarantee that Juventus' João Cancelo will be involved next summer, the 24-year old now Portugal's out-and-out first choice right back.
Further up the pitch, there are three 'defensive' midfielders that are assured of a place in the squad so long as they avoid injury. The trio of William Carvalho, Ruben Neves and Danilo Pereira are crucial to Fernando Santos' plans, the first two undisputed starters for the side, while Danilo Pereira is an outstanding backup option.
Manchester City magician Bernardo Silva will also undoubtedly be involved, the attacking midfielder typically used on the right wing, while Andre Silva will be Portugal's first choice striker.
Who else deserves a chance?
There are plenty of other players that are borderline guaranteed a place too. The likes of Beto, Mario Rui, Raphael Guerreiro, Gonçalo Guedes, and Cristiano Ronaldo will all be expecting a callup from for the competition if they stay fit, as well as Renato Sanches, Bruno Fernandes and even Jose Fonte if he maintains his current form with Lille.
But there are some other players that deserve to be under consideration for inclusion. Here are five players we'd like to see included in the UEFA Nations League squad.
1. João Felix
The Benfica youngster has been terrific this season for the Portuguese giants, slotting into the team with ease and class, defying his youthful years in the process.
Indeed, in a season that has been filled with relative disappointment for Benfica, the 19-year old attacking midfielder has been a shining light for the supporters, his 6 goals in 18 appearances across all competitions testament to his hard work and general ability.
And despite still being a teenager, there’s every chance that he’ll go on to make his Portugal debut in the coming months. After all, we saw Gedson Fernandes make makes his first senior international appearance for the country only last year at the exact same age, and his impact at Benfica was less than that of his equally youthful teammate.
For his flair, creativity and fearless football, Felix is someone that could add an element of unpredictability to Portugal’s ranks next summer, and the fact that some giants around Europe are considering making an approach for the 100 million euro rated midfielder shows that he is definitely one to keep an eye on.
2. Diogo Jota
Its astonishing to think that Diogo Jota has only just turned 22; having already picked up high level experience at Pacos Ferreira, Porto and now Wolverhampton, Jota’s experience goes well beyond his relative youth.
And since making his move to Wolves permanent, he has gone from strength to strength in the English top flight, culminating in that truly sensational hattrick against Leicester in Wolves’ 4-3 victory.
Yet, somehow, the most recent captain of the Portugal U21 national team has never made an appearance for Portugal at senior level. Not one.
That is, of course, not down to a lack of quality. Indeed, Jota has been the top performer for his country at youth level for several years now, bagging 8 goals in 20 appearances at U21 level, as well as chipping in with 5 goals in 9 games for the U19s.
Jota, instead, has been a victim of the huge depth Portugal have in his position; vying for a place in the squad alongside the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Bruma, Rafa Silva, Nani, Joao Mario and Ricardo Horta on the left - not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo should Fernando Santos choose to utilise the talisman in his old position - there is a great deal of competition for places in Fernando Santos’ squad.
But Diogo Jota has done more than enough in the Premier League to merit inclusion, and we hope to see him get his debut for Portugal in the coming months.
3. Nelson Semedo
Another exceptional player who is victim of the strength in depth Portugal have in his department. With the likes of Joao Cancelo, Ricardo Pereira, Cedric Soares and Diogo Dalot all viable options for Portugal in the right back position, it is not easy for the Barcelona man to make the cut.
In fact, despite now being 25 years of age, the former Benfica fullback has actually only played for Portugal 8 times since making his senior debut back in 2015. In fact, he hasn’t even been called up to the national team since November 2017, with Santos preferring the likes of Cedric, Cancelo and Ricardo Pereira to the La Liga asset.
It’s quite the indicator of just how much ability Portugal currently possess in that right back position that a Barcelona regular doesn’t get any game time for his country. Indeed, Nelsinho has made 12 appearances in La Liga so far this campaign, in addition to 4 Champions League showings. He really has been given a chance at the Spanish giants - and has performed well in the process.
It would therefore be refreshing to see Semedo given another chance to represent his coutnry at the Nations League. The versatile right back offering more attacking impetus than the other options Portugal have at their disposal, and would no doubt offer a great threat on the overlap.
4. Rafael Leão
Another player who is yet to play for the Portugal national team, Rafael Leao was one of the eight players to rescind his contract with Sporting after the violent scenes at Alcochete.
However, unlike both Bas Dost and Bruno Fernandes, Leao did not return to the club once the controversial club president Bruno de Carvalho left the club, instead opting to sign for French outfit Lille.
It seemed like a strange - and risky - decision for the talented teenage striker. Having finished just one point and one place above the relegation one last season, Lille were expected to be a midtable team at best.
However, after shrewd recruitment and a blend of youth and experience, Lille have performed tremendously, currently sitting 2nd in Ligue 1, sitting behind only PSG and in a Champions League qualifying place.
Leao has contributed his fair share in recent games, chipping in with 4 goals in his last 4 Ligue 1 outings, and appears as though he’s going to live up to the hype expected of him. He deserves a call-up to the national team.
5. Ricardo Horta
Another winger on the list. Ricardo Horta is perhaps the least likely of all five to get a call-up, ‘only’ playing for Braga rather than for one of the traditional Big Three in Portugal, but his efforts for his club shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Able to play on both the left and the right, Horta offers great versatility, which makes him an excellent option to have in an international tournament, while his passing and vision offers the creativity to open up defences and brings out the best in the players around him.
Horta has so far played 18 Primeira Liga games this season, scoring 6 and assisting 3 in the process, and has helped Braga obtain an impressive 3rd place position in the league standing.