The World Cup is almost upon us. 2016 European Champions Portugal are in action on Friday with one of the standout matches of the group phase as the Seleção lock horns with Iberian neighbours Spain, a match that could define Portugal’s campaign.

PortuGOAL will be producing podcasts throughout the tournament, and in a bumper first edition Matthew Marshall, Marino Peixoto and Tom Kundert discuss the squad makeup, what we learned from the recent friendlies, analyse Portugal's Group B opponents.

Finally, we second guess the line-up that Fernando Santos will send out against the Spanish on Friday 15 June in Sochi.

Game On! 

It doesn't get any bigger than this. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is here with Portugal entering as European Champions. With Fernando Santos announcing his 23-man squad on May 17 and three warm up friendlies done and dusted, let’s discuss the squad, speculate on Santos’ mindset and how he is likely to proceed in Russia.

Squad makeover

The 2016 European Champions have undergone a makeover with 10 players from the triumph in France no longer with us. Eduardo, Ricardo Carvalho, Vieirinha, Eliseu, Danilo Pereira, André Gomes, Renato Sanches, Rafa Silva, Nani and Éder are all gone, but their replacements are more than capable.

Danilo Pereira is the only player that missed out due to injury with the others either moving on, out of form or deemed not good enough. Santos and his brains trust have done well to bring in some of Portugal’s talented youngsters and ensure that competition for places remains high.

Players coming into the 2018 World Cup squad are Beto, Rúben Dias, Mário Rui, Ricardo Pereira, Bruno Fernandes, Manuel Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Gelson Martins, Gonçalo Guedes and André Silva.

Rúben Neves and Rony Lopes might have been unfortunate to miss out after outstanding seasons, but I would still argue that the current crop is an upgrade from 2016 and one that looks to the future as much as the present.

Centre-back dilemma

Much of the concern about Portugal’s squad has been in central defence, with an ageing cast and apparent lack of top class youngsters coming through the ranks. Bruno Alves (36), Pepe (35) and José Fonte (34) could all be playing their final tournament for the Seleção but the future is most definitely Rúben Dias.

The 21-year-old defender burst into Benfica’s first team last season, earning a call up and getting his international debut in the first warm up friendly against Tunisia. It gave an impression that he could be in line to partner Pepe in Russia before failing to feature against Belgium and Algeria.  

José Fonte played the full 90 minutes against Belgium and came off the bench against Tunisia and Algeria, a clear indication that Santos will stick with the same backline that got the job done in the latter stages of Euro 2016. This will be a learning experience for Dias who has to remain patient and wait for his chance.

Gonçalo Guedes or André Silva?

André Silva has been a vital component of Portugal’s qualifying campaign, playing the second most minutes behind Rui Patricio and scoring nine goals. With 12 goals in 23 appearances for the Seleção including the opener against Tunisia, there was little doubt his position was in jeopardy.

That was until Gonçalo Guedes stepped up with two goals against Algeria, looking very much the player many have been raving about during his time at Valencia last season. The 21-year-old has been terrifying defences in La Liga, scoring five goals and nine assists after a big money move to Paris Saint Germain appeared to stall his career.

His versatility may give him an edge, with his familiarity down the left wing another advantage which would allow João Mário to come inside and create havoc.

Silva’s season at AC Milan has been frustrating for the 22-year-old, struggling to get game time as he fell behind Patrick Cutrone and Nikola Kalinic in the pecking order. Fernando Santos has a tough decision to make.

Keep the faith

Portugal are systematically underrated and the underlying negativity that continually appears to surround the Portuguese team should provide extra motivation and help promote an ‘us against them’ mentality. The confidence displayed by Santos during Euro 2016 will carry over here and there is no doubt Portugal will believe they can win the World Cup.

The build-up and match against France in Paris in 2016 should serve as a reminder that anything is possible in life and in football. A World Cup opener against Spain may have initially prompted fear, especially after the trauma against Germany in 2014, but it’s time to look forward with positivity and hope.

Força!

Portugal 2018 World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon).

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica).

Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting).

Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).

 By Matthew Marshall

 

Comments (10)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Well said,

PORTUGUESE Seleçâo has all that is needed to win the World Cup 2018 for the first time.

Leadership by Cristiano Ronaldo which is crucial and the experience by the senior team members.

The team has the much needed unity and the right...

Well said,

PORTUGUESE Seleçâo has all that is needed to win the World Cup 2018 for the first time.

Leadership by Cristiano Ronaldo which is crucial and the experience by the senior team members.

The team has the much needed unity and the right combination and a god rapport between Senior and Junior player.

Most of the senior team members has won everything and only need the World Cup Glory, The juniors need to take this opportunity and work towards the goal of wining this World Cup 2018 at Russia.

Fernando Santos has the experience and so the players.

I wish and pray to God to give PORTUGUESE Seleçâo all what it takes to win World Cup.

God Bless the PORTUGUESE Seleçâo.

All the best to see Portugal return with the World cup 2018

VIVA PORTUGAL

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Thanks guys. Great podcast and generally agree with most points.

It's been fascinating watching the Portuguese National Team evolve into a more complete squad with a lot of depth at each position (except CB of course). While we do have an...

Thanks guys. Great podcast and generally agree with most points.

It's been fascinating watching the Portuguese National Team evolve into a more complete squad with a lot of depth at each position (except CB of course). While we do have an abundance of quality Mid-fielders I think one can argue that William is somewhat irreplaceable given Danilo's injury. Hopefully we will be assured a spot in the knock-out stages so that Santos can manage his minutes along with our CBs.

To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if we earn 3 points against Spain with the collection of players we have (I believe the team is on track to be as solid as our 2004 team). At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if we split points with Morocco in game 2.

Having said that, I hope I have this scenario in reverse (rather take all 3 points against Morocco) given my concern with the schedule. If Spain beats us in the opening match, they will almost certainly be playing Morocco having assured themselves a place in the Group Stage (95% confidence they will beat Iran in game 2). Spain will then likely field a weaker team against Morocco leaving Portugal's earlier match against Morocco a decisive game.

Best not to think too far in advance. I hope Santos shows a replay of Pepe head butting Mueller in the last World Cup to remind everyone to "keep calm and carry on".

#PowerOfTheMoths

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Appreciate the podcast!

I am ready for Spain.. will be pleasantly surprised if we lose to them. Having watched their last friendly and they struggled to breakdown Tunisia. They lack naturally wide attackers. Isco who will be positioned on the...

Appreciate the podcast!

I am ready for Spain.. will be pleasantly surprised if we lose to them. Having watched their last friendly and they struggled to breakdown Tunisia. They lack naturally wide attackers. Isco who will be positioned on the left, hardly ever dribbles down the line. He is way wired circling through the middle. Iniesta has become a stationary player center of left, playing between Isco and Jorbi Alba. They also prefer attacking down the left side so Jordi Alba generally tries to get forward when Isco switches towards the center.. leaving Ramos in tons of space that Bernardo can charge into. Although Spain will likely dominate possession playing their useless side-to-back tiki taka.. If Portugal uses a narrow and compact line of William, Moutinho, and Bruno Fernandes they'll have successfully nullified 90% of where the Spanish attacks originate. How does Spain counter? Alba ditching his defensive duties all game long? Probably not. Rodrigo won't even get to smell the coffee!!

On the opposite flank lies the keys to victory for us. Dani Carvajal, Spain's starting right back who also plays for Real Madrid is injured and in all likelihood will miss the Portugal game. The man replacing him, "Cesar Azpilicueta" is an absolute shambolic defender and is prone to make the errand pass. If we insert Gonçalo Guedes on the left attacking side, Mark my words - he will pulverize him. This is why Bruno over Mario, so that instead of Mario, Guedes occupies the left, and Bruno can sneak in behind CR7. The only other option for Spain is to double Guedes (highly doubt it while CR strides through the middle) or substitute Cesar for Nacho and play three central defenders (they also tried this) which ruins their whole dynamic.

The only change(s) is replacing Moutinho for Adrien to man-mark David Silva and J.Mario for Bruno to take the safe approach but then again all that tells us is we're clearly conceding to an inferiority complex. We have all the tools to exploit Spain and not settle for 2nd-best in the group. Let's go for it!

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Great comment, however, I would choose Gelson over Bernardo against Spain. The reasoning is that Gelson can really be damaging on a counter with his pace and also provide another dangerous outlet to compliment Guedes. Spain can adjust to Guedes...

Great comment, however, I would choose Gelson over Bernardo against Spain. The reasoning is that Gelson can really be damaging on a counter with his pace and also provide another dangerous outlet to compliment Guedes. Spain can adjust to Guedes on the left by shifting the center backs, but not to both Guedes and Gelson.

Also, Alba very often gets deep into the attacks, if Spain loses the ball, he will very often be out of position. Perfect for Gelson to exploit. Whether the counter starts on the right or left, Spain will have to worry about the guy flying in on the other side.

Bernardo, doesn't seem to go at full pace often, he plays in a more patient system at Man City. For example, in the Belgium game, he was ahead of a defender and had space in front of him. He let the defender catch and pass him from behind. It wasn't a question of difference in pace, he held himself up. It would have given Gelson more options if he had gone forward at full pace, maybe even a cross from Gelson that might have allowed him to score. In the world cup where one goal is huge(i.e. Spain in 2010 won all games by just a goal), we can't squander chances. Here is a video link: Gelson Counter

Now my preference presumes Santos is going to absorb Spain possession and counter. If he has another strategy, then Bernardo might work out better.. For the Morocco and Iran games, I prefer Bernardo.

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Agree with everything you said SupremoGino. People are vastly overrating this Spain team. Don’t get me wrong, they have an excelled squad but they have weaknesses. Portugal is completely capable of beating them if we put out the right lineup and...

Agree with everything you said SupremoGino. People are vastly overrating this Spain team. Don’t get me wrong, they have an excelled squad but they have weaknesses. Portugal is completely capable of beating them if we put out the right lineup and don’t go in acting scared of them. I liked Santos’ comments today about his approach to this game saying we can’t let them have possession and control the game. This gives me hope he won’t play it safe by playing both Adrien and Joao Mario and hope to not lose.

--------------------Rui Patrício-------------------------
Cédric-----Pepe----------Fonte-----Guerreiro
-----------------------William ----------------------------
Bernardo-----------Adrién ------------B.Fernandes
-----------Guedes----------------Ronaldo---------

I have every ounce of confidence that this lineup will beat Spain and have pundits flabbergasted at how “one man team” Portugal beat one of the favorites.

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Opps. I meant to say "Álvaro Odriozola", not Cesar.

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When you start breaking down the other 'favorites' position to position and compare them to Portugal we are on par with anyone, I see no overwhelming favs here. Every team has gaps and a little luck can go a long way in a tourney like this. For...

When you start breaking down the other 'favorites' position to position and compare them to Portugal we are on par with anyone, I see no overwhelming favs here. Every team has gaps and a little luck can go a long way in a tourney like this. For instance, Spain - Keepers - De Gea vs Patricio, both world class, De Gea with a slight edge here, but hasn't won at the highest level. Defense - Ramos and Pique vs Pepe and Fonte - slight edge to Spain but Ramos is a headcase and CR7 is used to facing this guy in practice every day and I always felt like Pique was overrated. Wing backs - Alba is world class but didn't have a great season, Portugal has the edge here we have world class players on both sides and some depth too.
Mid Spain is still heavily dependant on an aging Iniesta to keep the mid ticking, Busquets doesn't scare anyone anymore and Isco who plays great for Spain is a part-time player at Madrid, Silva is great but none of these options are any better than William, Moutinho, Mario etc...Attack Spain is weighing heavily on Diego Costa, who barely played this year and when he did had no impact...obviously our attack is our strength, this goes without saying we have the best goal scorer of all time.

My point is you can break down every team player for player and see we should not be scared of anyone and I think they finally have that belief after the Euro.=...VIVA!!!

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De gea slight edge? Be realistic man hes miles ahead of Patricio who still scares the hell out of me on corners , and moutinho/william are no match for isco or iniesta either , we all want Portugal to win but we gotta be honest and realistic...

De gea slight edge? Be realistic man hes miles ahead of Patricio who still scares the hell out of me on corners , and moutinho/william are no match for isco or iniesta either , we all want Portugal to win but we gotta be honest and realistic about our team vs theres

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So De Gea is a great keeper for Man United, one of the best in the world, yet has not performed or won anything with Spain who now lost there coach a day before the tourney, whereas Patricio was one of the players of the tourney at the Euro, is a...

So De Gea is a great keeper for Man United, one of the best in the world, yet has not performed or won anything with Spain who now lost there coach a day before the tourney, whereas Patricio was one of the players of the tourney at the Euro, is a leader on Sporting (or was) and knows what it takes to win on the biggest stage...so yeah a slight edge for De Gea but not MILES ahead, that's ignorant...Isco is a PART TIME player for Madrid, and yes plays better for Spain, but again, he's proven nothing on the world stage and until he does why would I say he's better then Moutinho or William who are both also world class players in there own right and play EVERY game for there respective clubs and have now won at the highest level..and Iniesta USED to be the best CM in the world, he's now 35 and past his prime, barely finished a match for Barca this year, still class, but holds nowhere near the impact he used too...so yeah I stick to my comment, like I said when you start breaking it down instead of just reading the names, we can go man for man with anyone.

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don't worry everybody. santos has got this all figured out. our ageing defense may have run out of legs but not of brains. you must know that alves does not outrun his opponent anymore, he has too much brain for that now.

remember this team...

don't worry everybody. santos has got this all figured out. our ageing defense may have run out of legs but not of brains. you must know that alves does not outrun his opponent anymore, he has too much brain for that now.

remember this team will only score an average 1 goal per match. that is the target. keeping midfield water tight and no balls past william. keep the ball between legs of joao mario and adrien silva, with or without possession. thats the plan. cut off creativity and tire the opposition. boring tactic but our chances of advancing are greater.

but remember this tactic is only reserved for giants like spain or france. against lesser opposition we will play 4-3-3 with quaresma and ronaldo flanking andre silva with options to switch to guedes or bernardo.

manuel is our wild card and will feature need to come from behind. don't worry about centre backs. cedric or william will fill places if needed. they are tried and tested cbs and very good.

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