The European Championship has been delayed by 12 months until the summer of 2021, but that could be good news for Portugal. Manager Fernando Santos is blessed with several young and talented players that appear ready to break through and make an impact at the tournament.
No Seleção fan will forget the crucial roles played by Renato Sanches, João Mário and Raphaël Guerreiro in the Euro 2016 triumph, who were 18, 23 and 22 years old respectively at the time. Here are six players who will be aiming to make a similar impact when Portugal defend the trophy in one year’s time.
Diogo Jota is the most likely to become a regular starter after another highly productive season with Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League. The 23-year-old is a little different from other forwards in and around the national set-up, swapping flair and agility with a determination, balance, and strength that enables him to hold off defenders and make things happen in the final third.
Jota has only made two appearances for Portugal, but he could be a perfect foil for Cristian Ronaldo at Euro 2021 next summer. The former Porto player is also a threat in front of goal having netted 32 times in 107 appearances for Wolves during the last three seasons. Another solid campaign should be enough to secure Jota a place in the squad, but with the likes of João Félix and André Silva in advanced positions, he might need a stellar season to persuade Santos he is deserving of a starting role.
Another Wolves player, Daniel Podence, will also hope to break into the Portuguese set-up during the next 12 months. Still, he faces a more difficult task than Jota after a challenging start to life in the Premier League. The 24-year-old has made just five appearances since moving from Olympiakos in a £16.9m deal in January.
Podence is a gifted winger, as evidenced by his excellent displays with the Greek side earlier in the season. He scored against Spurs in the Champions League and was a regular provider of assists. He has received an international call-up but has yet to make his debut for the senior Portugal team, having made nine appearances for the U21s. Podence will need a great 2020/21 season to earn a place in the squad ahead of other attacking talents.
Dubbed the ‘Portuguese Mbappe,’ Rafael Leão is pushing for an international call up after a solid debut season with AC Milan in Serie A. Leão can play anywhere across the front three but arguably excels as a centre-forward where his strong six-foot two-inch physique and incredible pace allows him to pull off the shoulder of central defenders.
The 21-year-old does need to improve his return in front of goal, having scored only five times in 25 appearances for Milan in 2019/20, albeit most of those matches were from the substitutes’ bench. However, another eye-catching campaign in Italy’s top division could be enough for him to break into Portugal’s main squad after three years in the U21 side.
Left-back is one of the positions where Portugal is a bit lighter on quality, beyond the talented Raphael Guerreiro. Guerreiro’s injury record is patchy at best, and the forward-thinking Dortmund player is often deployed in midfield. One youngster who could deputise for him is Rúben Vinagre, who also plies his trade for Wolves.
The 21-year-old is not yet a regular starter at Molineux, but he has shown flashes of quality during his appearances in the Premier and Europa League. Vinagre only has one U21 cap, so he may need more time to improve his game with a view to a call-up for the World Cup 2022 squad. A Euro 2021 appearance could be possible if he kicks on quickly.
Barcelona surprised many by paying €31 million to sign the exciting attacking midfielder in the January transfer window, immediately loaning him back to Braga. He had just turned 20 years old, but Trincão’s scintillating form and goalscoring exploits since suggests it is money well spent.
Blessed with fabulous dribbling skills, an ability to progress the ball up the pitch, unusually well-tuned decision making for such a young player, and an eye for goal – often of the spectacular nature – should Trincão break into the Barcelona team he will surely be a strong contender for a squad place at minimum at Euro 2021.
There is a great deal of excitement about the potential of young Porto centre-back Diogo Leite, although he has only played a handful of games for his club side thus far. Rúben Dias and Pepe are likely to be the two main central defenders for the Seleção at Euro 2021, but there is not a great deal of competition in this area.
Leite, 21, has represented Portugal at every youth level and could potentially step up if he delivers on his early promise in the coming months. Veteran defender Pepe recently described Leite as the “best central defender” in the country.