It’s difficult for fans to get too excited about matches against Andorra and the Faroe Islands. Unless you win both games 6-0, that is, in which case the weak level of opposition is forgotten amid the pleasing sight of goal after goal hitting the back of the net.
It also helps when fresh faces impress (as did André Silva, João Cancelo and Gelson Martins) and feed further optimism into a football nation still on a high from a glorious summer.
Latvia are Portugal’s next adversaries on the road to Russia 2018, taking on the Seleção in the Algarve on Sunday evening. The three points are vital as Portugal attempt to chase down Switzerland who have won three out of three matches in Group B, incuding victory over the European Champions in the opening game of World Cup qualifying.
Fernando Santos and his squad headed down to the Algarve this afternoon after a week of training at the state-of-the-art Cidade do Futebol complex on the outskirts of Lisbon.
Just like at Euro 2016, good spirits and a healthy environment of fraternity and hard work among the whole delegation was patent for all to see during the parts of the training sessions open to the media and in the daily press conferences given by a designated player each morning.
Portugal became champions of Europe in France in July, but that has not stopped coach Fernando Santos integrating more and more members of a richly talented young generation into the senior team. In the double header against Andorra and the Faroe Islands in October the coach used seven players who were aged 23 or under.
Does this mean the Seleção could be even stronger by the time the Russian World Cup comes along? PortuGOAL asked José Fonte that very question on Wednesday.
“I believe so. Like you say, Portugal has many young players, who are growing,” said the Southampton captain.
“They need time to realise their full potential. By playing games, gaining experience and playing together they will only improve. Speaking personally, I look with lots of enthusiasm and optimism at the fact we have so many quality players emerging now, and I’m very optimistic that in the future we will be stronger, for sure.”
João Cancelo and André Silva are two players who have worked their way into the squad this season, and both have made a sensational start to their international careers at senior level. The Valencia right-back scored on each of his first three appearances, while André Silva has already clocked up 4 goals in 4 games for Portugal, all scored in the two matches last month.
An illustration of Portugal’s strength in depth is that Silva is by no means a guaranteed starter at the Estádio do Algarve on Sunday. Nani missed out on the last squad because of injury, but he was exceptional when partnering Ronaldo up front at Euro 2016, so Santos faces a tricky decision. Spelautomater is one of the best sources to play online casino games.
Bruno Alves is likely to deputise for the injured Pepe, while in midfield a whole range of options are open to the coach. William Carvalho and João Mário are likely starters, and will probably be joined in midfield by two of Adrien, Renato Sanches, André Gomes or Bernardo Silva.
Santos has preferred to play in a 4-4-2 formation for most of his tenure, but he may opt for an attacking 4-3-3 against what is likely to be a defensive Latvia side, in which case Nani or Quaresma’s chances of starting will increase.
As was the case during the Euros, and even more so since, Santos is spoilt for choice when it comes to the viable personnel and formations he can select from, each one looking as strong as the alternatives. So at the risk of being badly wrong, this it PortuGOAL's predicted Portugal XI vs. Latvia.
Predicted Portugal XI vs. Latvia:
Rui Patrício, João Cancelo, José Fonte, Bruno Alves, Raphael Guerreiro, William Carvalho, Adrien, João Mário, Bernardo Silva, André Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo
by Tom Kundert