Portugal play the first of two friendly matches tomorrow in Viseu against Saudi Arabia, with two overriding goals for coach Fernando Santos and the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF).
From the sporting point of view, Santos has used the opportunity to call up an array of players on the periphery of the Seleção to help him assess which ones could be part of the 23-man squad he will take to Russia for next summer’s World Cup.
Aside from the football, the FPF have made the two games central to a fund-raising campaign to aid the areas and residents affected by Portugal’s devastating wildfires in October.
The venues of the matches were switched to Viseu and Leiria, which are at the heart of the worst-affected regions, and blanket TV, media and press coverage will encourage donations to be given to the cause.
The FPF have set up two telephone lines (see below) where people can make a donation to help “the rebuilding of houses of underprivileged families in the various councils affected by the fires.”
A FPF, no âmbito da realização dos Jogos Solidários da Seleção nacional, terá ativas duas linhas telefónicas, a partir das quais será possível contribuir para a reconstrução de casas de famílias carenciadas dos vários concelhos afetados pelos fogos.https://t.co/I0nTeSnaAO— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) November 8, 2017
Portugal coach Fernando Santos was at pains to lend his support to the campaign, having revealed his grandparents’ house where he spent much of his childhood days was completely destroyed by the fires.
Nevertheless, the coach insists his squad will be 100% focused on the matches to make maximum use of the chance to begin preparations for World Cup 2018. “For us there are no matches that are less important than others,” said Santos. “Our goal is always to win every game we play.”
A total of eight players will make their senior Portugal debut in the next four days, if Santos sees fit: José Sá, Edgar Ié, Kevin Rodrigues, Ricardo Ferreira, Bruno Fernandes, Rony Lopes, Bruma and Gonçalo Paciência.
It is also a chance for Gonçalo Guedes, Ricardo Pereira and Rúben Neves to impress, who have just 7 caps between them, not to mention 31-year-old midfielder Manuel Fernandes, who earned a surprise call-up thanks to his sparkling form for Lokomotiv Moscow.
Asked whether he intended to give playing time to the entire squad, Santos pointed out that this was not the main objective: “If possible yes, although I’m not limiting my options to that. This isn’t a celebration; we’re talking about two games of football to be won. We won’t lose our shape, our philosophy, our way of playing.”
The inexperience of the squad is clearly reflected in the fact that centre-back Pepe has more than double the number of caps than all the other defenders put together (90 compared to 41). Given that Portugal still rely on fellow veterans José Fonte and Bruno Alves in central defence, who have both had fitness problems this season, finding viable alternatives at centre-back is perhaps the most important task Fernando Santos faces between now and next June.
Therefore, Edgar Ié and Ricardo Ferreira would appear to have most to gain from these friendly matches. Can they seize the day?
By Tom Kundert