In only 48 hours, the Seleção return to action in the UEFA Nations League semifinals against Switzerland. With the inaugural tournament finals being hosted in Portugal, big expectations are being placed on the shoulders of Fernando Santos and his men.

The squad, meanwhile, remain hesitant at a figurative crossroads. With so much talent, the path ahead could arguably be onward to heights previously unattainable for a nation as small as Portugal. Yet, there exists a palpable uncertainty about how to get the best out of this talented group of individuals. It is possible they could fall astray and get caught in limbo between greatness and outright mediocrity.

Seleção expert Nathan Motz previews the Nations League showpiece and briefly discusses future implications to the development of the team.

The contenders

Portugal’s match against Switzerland on Wednesday in Porto is a significant opportunity. Obviously it is the first step to reaching the tournament final against either England or the Netherlands. It is also a platform for Fernando Santos to finally determine the right configuration of the considerable talent he has at his disposal.

Switzerland were excellent in group play, scoring 14 goals in four matches and clinching their semifinal berth with a sensational performance against the Belgians. Portugal were inconsistent in a very defensive Group 3, scoring only five goals in four matches.

Head-to-head, Switzerland have the upper hand, winning 10 of their 22 matches. In recent times, Portugal were defeated in Switzerland during 2018 World Cup qualifying, but had the last laugh as they forced the Swiss into the qualification playoffs on the last matchday, winning 2-0 at the Estádio da Luz.

Meanwhile, the opposite semifinal match in Guimarães features two squads in white hot form. The Netherlands, after missing out on the 2018 World Cup entirely, were able to dispatch World Champions France and powerhouse Germany to book their ticket. England narrowly edged out Spain and World Cup runners-up Croatia in Group 4.

England lead the Netherlands head-to-head with 14 wins compared to 10 for the Dutch, but both sides are loaded with talent and will certainly feel they have every opportunity to move one step closer to silverware.

Squad permutations

Thus far, the tournament has proven to be an overwhelming success with results on the pitch mirrored by enthusiastic fan support. The additional avenue to secure qualification to the European Championships also increased the impact this tournament has on the international football calendar. Though it is fair to say the prestige is lacking with respect to the European Championship, this tournament is likely to become a feature for many years and it represents another opportunity for nations to gain competitive advantage in the build-up to the traditional and more renowned tournaments. 



For Portugal, it is imperative the squad be refined in an actual competition and in that sense the Nations League is good value. Though a great chance to add another trophy to the cabinet, the bigger picture for Portugal will be about cementing the right formation ahead of next summer’s showpiece event, the European Championship, which will be held in cities across Europe.

There are multiple issues for Santos to address. Providing cover to an aging group of centerbacks is paramount and might warrant the inclusion of two defensive midfielders as Santos did against Serbia in March. But there are huge question marks regarding how that affects Portugal’s offensive capabilities, especially with so many attacking specialists in the squad.

Portugal have indeed struggled for consistency in attack, particularly since the end of group play in the Nations League and into the opening two matches of European Championship qualifying. Calls for Bernardo Silva to move centrally have only increased, especially since Bruno Fernandes’ creative prowess makes him very difficult to leave out of the starting XI. Moutinho and Pizzi also had superb seasons for their respective club sides and Gonçalo Guedes will be eager to erase his poor World Cup from memory while Benfica's Rafa Silva showed this season he may finally be ready to make good on the promise he showed at the beginning of his professional career.

Santos will also have to decide whether he sticks with Guerreiro or defaults to Mario Rui at left-back. Cancelo must prove he can stabilize his side of the back-four in addition to supplementing the attack. While the long-term stability of our defence may rest more on who succeeds Pepe and Fonte at centerback, Portugal’s fullback options have yet to conclusively demonstrate their merit on the pitch. All things considered, Portugal's defensive situation is still very much less than ideal.

Finally, João Félix has been heralded by some as the most exciting Portuguese player since Cristiano Ronaldo, a comparison which has been made many times in reference to young, exciting Portuguese players. But Diogo Jota will feel his time has come to support Cristiano Ronaldo after concluding a successful first season in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton.

Santos is expected to favor some variation of 4-4-2 to accommodate Portugal's wealth of midfield talent, but a late game 4-3-3 looks possible as well. The stage is set for Fernando Santos to design the squad which will either drive Portugal to victory and perhaps onto even greater things in the years to come, or leave Portugal fans desperately wondering at the state of our underachievement despite the luxurious individual talent in the squad.

Predictions

Despite Switzerland’s ominous form, they are faced with the task of beating Portugal on its own turf, and even with respect to the aforementioned squad conundrum and inconsistent displays, the Seleção will be eager to remind the world they are the reigning European Champions. If Santos can find the magic combination in midfield that gets the best out of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, rejuvenated talents like Rafa Silva, and stalwarts Moutinho, Pizzi, and William, Portugal will be able to control this match. However, Champions League winner Xherdan Shaqiri and Seferovic will spearhead an attack that will almost certainly give Portugal’s backline problems, especially if Guerreiro and Cancelo fail to mind their defensive responsibilities.



In the other semifinal, one gets the feeling that England is coming due for a trophy. Even a less glamorous occasion such as this will likely compel this talented squad to perform at their collective best. With many players coming off great seasons in the English Premier League, it is difficult to see England not reaching the final.

As a longtime Seleção fan, I would love to see Portugal win this tournament. My heart tells me this is going to happen. My mind tells me our squad is in a state of transition and has not yet found its best tactical arrangement. While the future looks incredibly bright, I believe Portugal will defeat Switzerland only to succumb to England in the final.

Matches

Semifinals

5 June, Portugal vs Switzerland, Estádio do Dragão, Porto 2045 CEST

6 June, England vs Netherlands, Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimarães 2045 CEST

Third place play-off

9 June, Losers semi-final 1 vs losers semi-final 2, Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimarães 1500 CEST

Final

9 June, Winners semi-final 1 vs winners semi-final 2, Estádio do Dragão, Porto 2045 CEST 

by Nathan Motz

 

 

Comments (9)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I have to agree with Nathan regarding Portugal's chances in the Nations League. We have the strongest and most balanced squad in the tournament, and as the hosts, we are rightfully considered favorites. That being said, Fernando Santos has failed...

I have to agree with Nathan regarding Portugal's chances in the Nations League. We have the strongest and most balanced squad in the tournament, and as the hosts, we are rightfully considered favorites. That being said, Fernando Santos has failed to come up with a starting 11/tactical scheme to take this undeniably strong talent pool to the next level.

England and the Netherlands on the other hand appear to have a more settled starting 11 and tactical identity.

I still feel a 3-5-2 could work wonders with the players Santos has at his disposal, but we all know he isn't going to make such a significant tactical change right before an international tournament. He'll stick to a back 4, but it'll be interesting to see if he opts for a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. The 4-4-2 perhaps gets the best out of Ronaldo, but if forces Bernardo Silva out wide. a 4-3-3 could better accommodate both Bernardo and Bruno Fernandes, but it'll leave Ronaldo alone up top, a role that he famously isn't a fan of.

Ultimately, I think we'll see Santos opt for a 4-3-3 with William, Moutinho, and Bruno Fernandes in the midfield, and a front 3 of Ronaldo, Rafa, and Bernardo. On paper, we would still have more than enough quality to beat any side in world football, but the fact that we have yet to discover a system that truly works is certainly a cause for concern.

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Portugal tends to screw up when they're favourites. We do better as underdogs. I don't think this team is settled. Portugal out against Switzerland. Netherlands to win the whole thing. I hope I'm wrong though...

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I disagree with Nathan’s analysis.
Portugal won’t even beat Switzerland .

I hope I am wrong though .
Santos is past it and has no idea who to play.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Santos literally picks the team by random for the positions other...

I disagree with Nathan’s analysis.
Portugal won’t even beat Switzerland .

I hope I am wrong though .
Santos is past it and has no idea who to play.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Santos literally picks the team by random for the positions other than Ronaldo , Pepe and William (Danilo is suspended so William is certain to play).

He literally has no idea what he is doing.
In fact, he didn’t know what he was doing in the group stage of Euro 2016 either. He figured out his lineup only in time for the Croatia game.

This is a short tournament and santos has no time to ease into it and get an established lineup. Tomorrow the Estádio do Dragão will be the Estádio do Cagão. Portugal
Will get crushed . Porto fans will probably be happy tho.

Portugal will also fail to qualify for Euro 2020.
World Cup 2022 we will qualify but exit in the group stage.

As shitty as the above sounds, I predict Portugal winning World Cup 2026 with the emerging generation. We will have to suffer for the next 7 years though .

I was confident ahead of Euro 2016 and foresaw that victory.

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Z, I can understand why you feel that way. Santos has also frustrated me quite a bit with his squad selection. But let's remember these players are still capable of the spectacular if they perform at their best. Guerreiro (for once) is healthy...

Z, I can understand why you feel that way. Santos has also frustrated me quite a bit with his squad selection. But let's remember these players are still capable of the spectacular if they perform at their best. Guerreiro (for once) is healthy and in form, Ronaldo is fit and rested, Bernardo Silva is coming off the best season of his life, and we have great options off the bench whoever they might be. Our defense is a concern, but I think the situation is hopeful enough that we can expect to have a good chance against Switzerland. Even if we lose, we can still gain good experience that will help us prepare for the Euros. We'll qualify, trust me. We've all seen this happen before. Portugal struggle out of the gate, but they'll get in gear. Have faith my friend!

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regardless of the line up, the talent is there, they will find a way

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Nathan @nathanmotz you mentioned that we are short on young central defenders. How about Miguel Vitor? He is 29 years old.Tom @PortuGoal1 asked you about him last year but you never replied. Why does Santos not have him in the team ? He is an...

Nathan @nathanmotz you mentioned that we are short on young central defenders. How about Miguel Vitor? He is 29 years old.Tom @PortuGoal1 asked you about him last year but you never replied. Why does Santos not have him in the team ? He is an excellent central defender. Looking forward to your reply and seeing Portugal win today.

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Thomas, thanks for the question. Miguel Vitor's season was marred by injury this year if I'm not mistaken. When I look at Vitor's club history I don't see too many indications that he is qualified for the international level. Remember that if he...

Thomas, thanks for the question. Miguel Vitor's season was marred by injury this year if I'm not mistaken. When I look at Vitor's club history I don't see too many indications that he is qualified for the international level. Remember that if he were called up for Portugal, he'd have to defend strikers who regularly play their club football in top leagues while he remains in the Israeli league. Obviously, Portugal don't have many other options, but at this time I have my doubts that Vitor is able to compete well enough to earn a call-up. Even players like Zenit St Petersburg's Neto and Montpellier's Pedro Mendes were not considered, and they have had much better careers overall than Vitor, all due respect to him.

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@Z May you provide me with the upcoming winning lottery numbers please

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks Nathan for your reply. Vitor was voted best player in the Israeli league two years ago. You mentioned Neto and Mendes. These players together with Vitor should be in the discussion among the coaching staff and assessed. Santos is guilty of...

Thanks Nathan for your reply. Vitor was voted best player in the Israeli league two years ago. You mentioned Neto and Mendes. These players together with Vitor should be in the discussion among the coaching staff and assessed. Santos is guilty of relying on players well passed their sell by dates. After this tournament i hope the powers that be ring in the coaching changes. I hope we win by a few goals today maybe a Ronaldo hat trick. Enjoy the game.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“These players have worked in an exemplary manner. We don't have time to create combinations, sometimes the football isn't perfect like we want it to be, but the players believe in the coach. I thought this was the best way to win the game.”

Fernando Santos
(Portugal coach after beating Netherlands in the Nations League final to conquer Europe for the second time in three years) 

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