With the domestic season done and dusted in Portugal, attention has shifted to international football. As the young Seleção stars challenge for glory at the U20 World Cup in Poland, back home the senior side is preparing for a tilt at becoming winners of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
Despite home advantage and welcoming back captain Cristiano Ronaldo – who sat out the group phase of the competition – coach Fernando Santos was keen to downplay the notion that Portugal were favourites to lift the trophy.
“Portugal has had the best player in the world since 2004 and has only won (a tournament) once,” pointed out the coach, when asked if the two factors made the Seleção favourites.
“I understand the idea behind your question, but why is Portugal more of a favourite than the other teams? Because Germany or Spain or others aren’t here? Name’s don’t win tournaments. Because we are playing at home? We played at home in 2004 and we didn’t win. We went to France (Euro 2016), who were supposed to be favourites, and we won.
“Favouritism is very theoretical. We can say we are contenders and we want to win it, and since I’ve been in this job I’ve never hidden the fact that is our ambition. I always tell the players: we are not better than anybody else, but it’s also difficult for any other team to be better than us.”
Santos was speaking on the day most of the players (15 of the 23) arrived at the Cidade do Futebol complex on the outskirts of Lisbon. Nélson Semedo, Mário Rui and Gonçalo Guedes report for duty today, while Beto, Pepe, Danilo, Bruno Fernandes and captain Ronaldo join the camp on Wednesday. The coach will therefore have one week with the full squad to prepare the team ahead of the semi-final against Switzerland on 5 June at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto.
The veteran coach would not be drawn on who will comprise the starting XI but says the team is practically decided in his mind. “Something would be wrong if I didn’t know who was going to play. I’m not 100% decided on the line-up, but I don’t have many doubts. However, the training sessions will have an influence.”
One certainty is that Danilo will not play against Switzerland. The Porto midfielder serves a one-match suspension after getting sent off in Portugal’s final Nations League match against Poland.
There are also doubts about whether Juventus right-back João Cancelo will be fit to play after a recent operation on his nose. “Let’s see how he is in training,” said Santos. “He’ll have to use a mask for a while; if the feedback is not positive we won’t pick him.”
By Tom Kundert