Four requirements for Portugal to build a World Cup winning squad  

“Champions realise that defeat - and learning from it even more than from winning - is part of the path to mastery.”  - Rasheed Ogunlaru

Euro 2020 was a revelatory tournament. An exposé highlighting essential criteria for building modern, championship-calibre teams. It also advertised characteristics which have proven most successful in major tournaments spanning many generations, football cultures, and the tactical zeitgeist.

Many, including Portugal supporters, are reticent to grasp the broader implications of tournament results. Alongside us, Spain, France, Belgium, and England trudge wearily through a wasteland of inquiry, sorting the rubbish of missed opportunities. As blame proliferates and hard proofs recede into the background, the time-tested virtue of learning from old mistakes seems forgotten. After missing the 2018 World Cup, Italy remembered. They are now European Champions.

Portugal would do well to follow their example over the next 16 months.

Raw and unremarkable impressions about Portugal’s Euro 2020 performance  – wholly explained by Fernando Santos’ mishandling our attack-minded players, for example – have plenty of emotional appeal but often fail to inspire changed thinking. “Fire the coach now, and solutions will flow naturally….” or so many have claimed.

But as complaints there is some validity in what people are suggesting. This is indeed a different era for Portugal, and that requires a different conversation about our Seleção. Talent is abundant. We are a bridesmaid no longer. And, Ronaldo and Pepe will not long be with us.

This work is less a tournament review as an attempt to clarify meaning and direction. To unearth and refine abstract queries about what went wrong into a sine qua non strategy for Portugal’s World Cup ambitions next year in Qatar. For that reason, I will avoid or at least make only passing mention of factors such as luck, the tournament draw, and player injuries though each of these has significant impacts on tournament outcome.

Essential balance

Defensively, Euro 2020 was Portugal’s worst four-game stretch in three and a half years, and level with the 2014 World Cup as our worst tournament performance on record with seven goals allowed. Of all the reasons why Portugal suffered an early exit, this is arguably the most important yet it received the least attention. It is psychologically easier to wax indignant about your team not proactively creating than it is to howl about defensive ineptitude. Still, preventing a goal improves the odds of victory more than scoring one according to statistical records.

Whatever alterations we might require to our attacking arrangement, and Pepe’s heroics notwithstanding, Portugal surely have a bona-fide defensive problem to sort out, right? Rúben Dias did not perform like the EPL’s Player of the Year, and few centreback options aside from Domingos Duarte look anywhere near ready for next year’s World Cup.

But results such as these must always be assessed in their proper context: excluding the absolute train-wreck vs Germany - Portugal conceded a very soft penalty and a Benzema goal requiring a world class ball behind the defense in the match against France plus a brilliant solo effort vs Belgium in a match which Portugal defensively controlled throughout, full stop.  

Yet Santos’ Portugal have been accused of playing unreasonably pragmatic football since he assumed his present role in 2014. Supporters overwhelmingly feel Portugal let Euro 2020 get away by neglecting to confront the issue with forceful, innovative solutions befitting the exquisite attacking players at our disposal. 

So which is it? Did Portugal lack attacking potency? Or did defence betray them?

I think we are asking the wrong questions. Football is too complex an endeavor to be articulated in such a binary fashion. I do not simply recommend Portugal “attack more” or “defend better” because it lacks sophistication.

In tournament football especially, functional balance is paramount, not simply individual excellence. Portugal fielded the tournament’s top scorer, and one of its better defenders, Pepe. Merely demanding more goals or greater attacking emphasis is not a solution if it imbalances on-the-pitch dynamics – our ability to maintain positive control over the ebb and flow of the game.

Ultimately, offensive or defensive improvement cannot be a goal in and of itself. Rather, it is a by-product of the first essential requirement for Portugal’s success at the 2022 World Cup.

Forge a squad whose collective functioning harmonizes the progression into and out of the four basic modes of play: established possession, transitioning to defense, being without possession, recovering the ball/transitioning to possession.

The anatomy of a well-balanced squad features contrasting performance aptitudes – players who functionally complement each other well. Against Hungary and Germany, William and Danilo were redundant and severely disrupted the harmony of the squad in these four phases. Our transitions were easier to defend resulting in numerous turnovers. Our possession only improved once Germany no longer needed to press their advantage. We generated little defensive pressure and relied on unforced errors from Germany. 

When losing the ball, Portugal were especially slow and predictable through midfield. Then Renato Sanches was introduced in the second half against Germany - the graceless force of his runs dramatically improving our progression through the critical game states. One player made Portugal an entirely different opponent because it changed the character of our midfield. 

Midfield reconstitution

Collectively, our midfield can be our salvation at the 2022 World Cup, but it is also where we need the most improvement based on what I saw at Euro 2020.

That is, if players were allowed to excel in their natural roles. 

I wrote years ago about Miguel Danny – former Portugal international and Zenit St Petersburg central midfielder – and how sad it was Paulo Bento and Carlos Queiroz insisted he play on the wing instead of as a No.10. This nightmare is being relived with Bernardo Silva and at some point you have to ask in frustration – how many insipid performances is it going to take for Santos to begrudgingly agree he is not a winger? At least, not for the Seleção. When he does feature, João Félix also needs a more central role. 

If Bernardo is not good enough to start in central midfield then he needs to be on the bench not shoehorned into the squad as a winger. Same goes for the rest of our midfielders and thus our next critical requirement:

Renato Sanches is Portugal's metronome - choose two others and a No.6 based on who complements him best.

This iteration of Portugal's midfield cannot get through the gears - the four basic modes of play - quickly enough without the incandescence of Renato Sanches. William's loss of form severely hurt our transition and possession play, and Danilo only occasionally showed the creativity to quickly turn defense into attack. Renato Sanches is the modern No.8 we need and seems to thrive in an unstructured role similar to N'Golo Kante. We need one of Félix, Bruno, or Bernardo Silva in the hole behind our strikers to further develop our midfield. The others sit the bench. 

Optimize talent distribution

Euro 2020 revealed how much Portuguese football culture has changed – we have not mass-produced wing wizards in years. I wrote both years ago and more recently how the trend in world football is also leaning this way. In today’s game, versatility and stamina are more desirable qualities in a midfielder than raw speed and technical skill. This reality is incontestable and Portugal need a better reaction, tactically and in terms of player selection.

Many insist Pedro Neto will be Portugal’s next great No.7, and he may very well be. But he is young, and there are huge questions surrounding his ability to recover peak form after injuring his knee. Trincão, and others in the current U21 generation are simply too young to evaluate with any real conviction.

At Euro 2020, Santos brought only two players who might be considered traditional wingers – Guedes and Rafa Silva – both of whom were excluded from the squad vs Belgium. Even so, the 4-3-3 continued as our base formation, a tactical blueprint which requires a great deal of pace and creativity from the wing to be successful. A formation we borrowed from the Dutch in the 1990s and perfected in the 2000s through Figo, Maniche, Nani, Quaresma, and especially Cristiano Ronaldo.

Looking at say, the top 30 players who might be Seleção candidates in the coming year, the distribution of technical skill has clearly shifted. The emergence of Nuno Mendes and utility of Guerreiro and Cancelo as wingbacks for their club sides screams the potential for a three-man defense, and the assembly of Portugal’s starting XI into either a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. When you consider Vitinha, Daniel Bragança, Fábio Viera and others are close behind, this player pool is looking less and less as if it justifies the 4-3-3. Neto aside, all the pace and trickery you might want in a natural winger currently resides with our fullbacks. This is one area where I definitely agree a change in manager may have given Portugal greater opportunity to develop a new formation.

The past may indeed live in us, but we should not live in the past. The next critical requirement for Portugal’s World Cup 2022 preparation represents a departure from tradition.

Be willing to abandon the 4-3-3 to emphasize Portugal’s talent at fullback and in midfield.  

Finally, there are emerging presuppositions in the Portuguese supporter community which need further discussion. I see some opinions of our talent pool which are at best unjustifiable. Before you flip on caps lock and rage out in the comments section below, just hear me out. Some of the difficulty in evaluating player ability is due to personal bias. We like this club or that club and so favor their young players. Some of the difficulty is because there is no flawless technique for predicting which players realize their world-class potential and those who do not. In fact, I’ve wanted to write a piece on that very subject for many years – how should we evaluate and predict those players who become historical landmarks in the game vs those who become journeymen, never finding their place.

Some seem to believe we are so talented that nothing less than 90 minutes of attacking fury will suffice – no matter the opponent. My apologies for any offense, but this expectation is irrational and belies a proper understanding of the sport. Orthodox football is art and science – a creative ensemble of players who subscribe to an elegant common vision – a way the game ought to be played – and a tactical response which organizes highly technical players into a cohesive problem solving instrument. In football as in life, elegant romance and cold hard facts are always in tension, and too much force applied either direction snaps the cord.

A championship squad is both a machine and a symphony. It will take more than great management and great players to build on Portugal’s winning tradition. Most national teams go through peaks and lows on an irregular cycle. Argentina were great in the 70s and 80s and only just now returned to prominence. Spain won the Euros in 1964, but it took more than 40 years to win another tournament. It took them until 2010 to win their first World Cup. Belgium and Sweden have roughly the same population as Portugal and have never won a major tournament.

What Portugal has done over the last twenty-five years is inconceivable and should probably never have happened. Do the work of tracing our lineage – buy “The Thirteenth Chapter” from the Book Corner on this website – and read the trajectory of this national team in its proper historical context.

We all need an expectation reset before the 2022 World Cup. That is why my final critical requirement is for the supporters.

Understand we are playing the long game - overhauling Portugal into a dominant footballing nation.

Periods of failure and underachievement are inescapable, but the prosperity curve bends upward. Another U21 Euro final appearance, young players developing across Europe’s Top-Five leagues and experienced players in their prime. We are still gathering. Soon it will be time to let loose again, and I believe big tournament performances are in store over the next decade or two.

I want each one of you to remember this painful historical reality: the Golden Generation played wonderful football, and never won a single tournament. We cannot prepare for the 2022 World Cup by insisting our present squad can reincarnate the early 2000s Seleção. Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva, André Silva, João Félix, Bruno Fernandes, Dias…..these players have not convinced me our only problem is poor management. Have they honestly convinced you?  

For my part, I am ready for a new manager to address some of these problems, but that is not going to happen. I am also not eyes wide shut about the possibility this group of players, in spite of their talent, may not ever integrate well enough to become champions. 

Love or hate what I have just written, but think about these things over the next five weeks before Portugal get back on task in World Cup qualification against Ireland.

Força Seleção.

by Nathan Motz

Opinion: Standing up for Fernando Santos - Breaking down the Bandwagon

 

Comments (35)

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I agree with everything Nathan wrote. I would add an additional clause regarding leadership. Who is to take up the mantle going forward? I really do not want to see a thirty-eight year old Ronaldo in a Portugal jersey.

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I think the only regular starter and "inbetweener" (came after Ronaldo/Pepe, but before Bernardo, Felix, etc) would be Rui Patricio.

I don't know that he's captain material though. I think the guy who has the leadership ability even though he...

I think the only regular starter and "inbetweener" (came after Ronaldo/Pepe, but before Bernardo, Felix, etc) would be Rui Patricio.

I don't know that he's captain material though. I think the guy who has the leadership ability even though he had a shit tournament is probably Ruben Dias.

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Great Article. We really need to reign in our expectations. Most of our players are severely overrated due to Jorge Mendes and the Portuguese media’s interests in building player value.

We have no team identity other than being a cheap vehicle...

Great Article. We really need to reign in our expectations. Most of our players are severely overrated due to Jorge Mendes and the Portuguese media’s interests in building player value.

We have no team identity other than being a cheap vehicle for Ronaldo to stat pad and break scoring records. Spain has a way of playing. Italy has a system and way of playing. We are a bunch of players randomly thrown into the pitch.

Nobody outside of our bubble seriously believes Portugal will be a serious threat at the World Cup. Our stock has fallen after poor performances in 2018 and 2020.

The most likely scenario? A round of 16 exit to a top European or South American side.

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I'm not certain the future is quite that bleak, but I agree there are some significant improvements needed. We do lack identity right now. As for Ronaldo, well, if he would quit banging in goals it would be easier to drop him. The difficulty is...

I'm not certain the future is quite that bleak, but I agree there are some significant improvements needed. We do lack identity right now. As for Ronaldo, well, if he would quit banging in goals it would be easier to drop him. The difficulty is that Portugal's other attacking options are constantly fluffing their lines. At this tournament, I basically saw one guy on a team of 11 who looked a real threat to score: Ronaldo. When a team scores 7 times and 6 of those are scored or created by one player, it becomes harder to justify dropping that player.

Bottom line, I think we're losing the game in midfield because we are failing to perform the most basic operations in football. People insist Ronaldo impedes the style of this team and I still think there is very little hard evidence of that, especially after what I saw at Euro 2020.

I know people are starting to turn on Ronaldo and I understand it's frustrating there are no better options right now. It's on the young players themselves to prove they have more to offer than he does, and I just don't see it yet. Jota? Didn't have it. Andre Silva? Still not firing on all cylinders. Bernardo? Felix? Someone has to prove they can step on the pitch and give Portugal more than Ronaldo can, and they have to prove it not with club form but with real authority for the Selecao when it matters.

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They were on vacation mode Nathan, it was obvious. Either through being tired or injured they could not perform and if so, why call them at all? Why call up Felix or Bruno F if they play like that?

Those 29 shots v Belgium is the greatest...

They were on vacation mode Nathan, it was obvious. Either through being tired or injured they could not perform and if so, why call them at all? Why call up Felix or Bruno F if they play like that?

Those 29 shots v Belgium is the greatest example of quantity or quality. When the game ended and someone showed that stat my jaw hit the floor. Portugal did NOTHING, outside of the Dias header and Guerreiro hitting the bar. It was random shots into orbit. No pressure, no threat, no indication of danger.

Bruno F was a nightmare disaster. Bernardo Silva as well. Jota was still not recovered. Felix was injured. Double pivot failed miserably and Nelson Semedo did poorly but again he had no help from Bernardo Silva.

A HEALTHY Andre Silva coming off the season of his life, played very little minutes. Renato and Moutinho introduced too late. Pedro Goncalves lead the league in scoring and didnt play any minutes. We needed goals and Santos didnt play statistically his best scorers.

People can defend Santos all they want, I love the man but in these tournaments there is no time for tinkering, no time for wholesale changes. Santos should have ironed this out before it started and grown a backbone and not played the tired/injured players. Dont like it? Go sulk at home. This is about Portugal not your ego.

Ronaldo should still play, its a silly argument against him but Mancini showed how to maximize his squad. THATS what a coach does. Italy went guns blazing, using speed on the wings (Chiesa) and clinical finishers (Belloti, Insigne, Immobile). Italy 3 shots 2 goals, Portugal 29 shots 0 goals.

Sorry but Santos needs to go and not for that pelican JJ either. JJ is a meme.

We need a good coach, a Fonseca or an NES type. Leonardo Jardim.

NO Mourinho, NO Ginger Judas and NO NO NO JJ the mullet man.

If they plan on hiring another stinker like Queiroz, then keep Santos but if they can snag one of the studs above, Santos has to go.

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How does a Joao Felix and Andre Silva step up and show you what the can do when you don't start them. Here is 20 minutes to play guys, be brilliant and score 10 goals. Andre has 16 goals in 42 appearances for Portugal and none are PKs. ...

How does a Joao Felix and Andre Silva step up and show you what the can do when you don't start them. Here is 20 minutes to play guys, be brilliant and score 10 goals. Andre has 16 goals in 42 appearances for Portugal and none are PKs. He was the leading record score for Frankfurt. Hard to prove your worth when Santos does not play you.

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John, thanks for your comment. I do feel for André. He did have a great season, but he is Ronaldo’s direct competition for a spot in this team and it’s very difficult to justify he offers a broader array of goal scoring ability than Ronaldo....

John, thanks for your comment. I do feel for André. He did have a great season, but he is Ronaldo’s direct competition for a spot in this team and it’s very difficult to justify he offers a broader array of goal scoring ability than Ronaldo. André is the kind of guy who has had some good matches, but has never laid an actual claim as our No.9 and that is at least somewhat because of Ronaldo. That said, Jota also outplayed him in many of the matches leading up to the Euros which is why Jota got the job alongside Cristiano - justifiably IMO. Silva is also automatically less competitive because he’s a traditional No.9 and doesn’t offer us anything from the wing or as a false 9 or something like that. Jota does.

Félix was injured during the tournament of course but his situation is one of not having a specific role. He often just gets thrown on as a secondary striker or makeshift winger, and neither of those suit him. That aside, he has had some pretty indifferent performances for us which have hurt his ability to dislodge Bernardo Silva, Jota, and Bruno Fernandes. Félix doesn’t have a winger’s pace and can’t finish as well as André Silva or Ronaldo. He’s up against it, and has to do more when he does play.

You’re right, they won’t get many chances, but if you go back and review qualification matches, UNL, and friendlies there is a great deal of inconsistency in their play. We don’t need 10 goals, just need consistency.

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Nathan, thanks for your article. I appreciate well thought out and thorough writing.

However, a pet peeve of mine, is when players get blind recognition of goals scored. Specifically, when the score a lot of penalties, they did not earn. I...

Nathan, thanks for your article. I appreciate well thought out and thorough writing.

However, a pet peeve of mine, is when players get blind recognition of goals scored. Specifically, when the score a lot of penalties, they did not earn. I consider earned penalties, when you were fouled in the box. Handball penalties, unless they were the last ditch effort to block a goal bound shot(Suarez handball 2010 WC), are to me just defensive errors.

Yes, Ronny got 5 goals, but three were penalties. I think a better metric would be, "Non-Penalty Goals", which he had 2. Yes, more than anyone else, but given he is the focal point of our attack, not too impressive.

And both goals were the result of great teamwork, Rafa S and Jota.

Now that I am in Ronaldo contemplation mode...

I wonder, along with many other fans, if he is hindering the growth of our offensive side. For example two things which he is lacking: hold up play and pressing. Now I know if he is motivated, he will press, but he is seemingly always trying to conserve energy(effort), and not press.

It is sad to watch how little hold up play we have as a team. Ronaldo doesn't do it and Bernardo can't, leaving just Jota. Having the ability to do hold up play, is a great way to link your forwards to your midfield and even defense, when attacking.

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Paulo, I can only offer my personal opinions. Ultimately, we will get the chance very soon to see whether Portugal improve, worsen, or stay the same once Ronaldo exits the team. Until then, all of us, myself included, can only speculate one way...

Paulo, I can only offer my personal opinions. Ultimately, we will get the chance very soon to see whether Portugal improve, worsen, or stay the same once Ronaldo exits the team. Until then, all of us, myself included, can only speculate one way or the other.

As most people who frequent this site probably know, I have never been in the "bench Ronaldo" camp. Not back in 2009-2010 when people were saying that, and not now. Nor am I convinced by the modern attempts to diminish the value of PK goals. A word on that first.

In my opinion, Ronaldo is the primary driver behind the argument of shifting away from "goals-scored" to "non-penalty goals scored" as the preferred metric. I say that because I see very little complaining about the fact Lukaku scored one less PK (6) than Ronaldo (7), nor that Lewandowski scored one more PK (8) than Ronaldo last season, nor the PKs any other player scores. There is an avalanche of mental, emotional, and rhetorical capital being spent on the subject of Ronaldo scoring PKs.

I see it as another effort to prove the "Penaldo" narrative: that aside from PKs, Ronaldo is no more than an ordinary goalscorer, every bit as much an empirically false story now as it was 10 years ago when people were saying that and many other things to discredit his performances. Furthermore, what resulted at Euro 2020 should have greatly overhauled the opinion of PKs given so many players missed them. Missed PKs were at a historical high this tournament with only 53% converted in the end (not counting PKs missed during shootouts and there were a LOT of those too).

Penalties, no matter how "easy" they may appear to score, are a huge part of football so if you have a player who converts a lot of them I just don't see how that can be discounted or frowned upon. Statistically, and aside from goals scored, Ronaldo was on par or better than Benzema, Lukaku, Kane, and other top strikers at Euro 2020 (using p90 stats).

That Ronaldo is the focal point of our attack actually emphasizes how good he was because the build-up through midfield from Portugal this tournament was really, really poor and very few people disagree with that. If you're at the end of the spear, it won't matter if the team behind you is disjointed and unable to supply quality opportunities. Same thing happened to him at WC 2010 when he was the lone No.9 in a 4-3-3 in the second half vs Spain (R16). He had no service and couldn't influence the match. He blamed Quieroz and he was right to do so.

I understand there are many who feel Ronaldo holds this team back and I know I won't change their minds, but I just don't see that. I see a group of players who are really struggling to get their feet underneath them and Euro 2020 did little to change my opinion on that. Would Andre Silva have made the team better with his pressing and hold up play? I honestly don't know. But I don't think the growth of our attacking play is stymied by Ronaldo so much as by our wrongful employment of Felix, Bernardo Silva, Bruno, etc combined with our use of the 4-3-3 with players who aren't as well suited for it. I don't think any strker in our inventory can change that.

Portugal as a nation never truly press an opponent at least not as long as I have watched them. I can't remember watching a Portugal side chase down the football in the opposition half with a high back-line unless that opponent was Malta, or the Faroe Islands, or another minnow. We are almost always poised to soak up pressure and counter vs top quality teams. Ronaldo doesn't press, but neither does anyone else to a great extent.

I remember one of our Nations League matches from 2018 when we played Italy away. They pressed us up and down the pitch and ran us ragged. We had no solution and were lucky to walk away with a 0-0 draw. Ronaldo didn't play that match. It's not him, it's just our style. Was the same under Bento, Quieroz, etc. Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and other top nations press. But I agree with you it's a part of our game which is conspicuously absent to our detriment.

Sorry for the long response. I do appreciate these conversations. Thanks for reading!

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„ Portugal as a nation never truly press an opponent at least not as long as I have watched them. I can't remember watching a Portugal side chase down the football in the opposition half with a high back-line unless that opponent was Malta, or...

„ Portugal as a nation never truly press an opponent at least not as long as I have watched them. I can't remember watching a Portugal side chase down the football in the opposition half with a high back-line unless that opponent was Malta, or the Faroe Islands, or another minnow.“
Generally yes but just to be accurate: There WAS such a game: Euro 2012 semi against Spain. Highest pressing possible, already at Spain‘s box, until minute 60. Exhausting style of play, though, but these were the only 60 minutes in years I saw Spain struggling with possession .

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Rolf, you're right about that Euro 2012 match vs Spain. We had a midfield of three-hardworking No.8s and we probably gave that Spain team one of the most difficult matches they had during the four year spell from '08 - '12. But that's the...

Rolf, you're right about that Euro 2012 match vs Spain. We had a midfield of three-hardworking No.8s and we probably gave that Spain team one of the most difficult matches they had during the four year spell from '08 - '12. But that's the exception that kinda proves the rule, isn't it? So, so rare to witness Portugal pressing high up the pitch.

That match was really different than so many others we played in that era. I will say Paulo Bento's 2012 squad inherited his pugnacious refusal to backdown. In the first group stage match, they played as well as any Portugal side has against a German side (not counting the 3-0 Euro 2000 thrashing), losing 1-0 but performing well enough to have earned at least a draw (7 shots on target, compared to 4 for Germany). I'll always believe that if we had beaten Spain, we would also have beaten Italy to win that Euro. Sigh, missed opportunities....

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100% if getting to the final, Portugal would have lifted that trophy in 2012.

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Nathan, thanks for the thoughtful and thorough response.

Following up on the two points: 1) Penalty Goals, 2) Ronaldo and Team dynamic

1) I would never say penalties are easy, they are a great and important skill. And in a game with the game on...

Nathan, thanks for the thoughtful and thorough response.

Following up on the two points: 1) Penalty Goals, 2) Ronaldo and Team dynamic

1) I would never say penalties are easy, they are a great and important skill. And in a game with the game on the line, I would prefer Ronaldo over anyone, even in club games(not just for Portugal) where their might be other great penalty takers. Ronaldo may miss, but the moment doesn't faze him.

Might point was simply that, talking about the goals he scored, seemed like he really dominated, but he didn't. 2 Non-Penalty goals, good, but not dominant. Better than anyone else on team, but for a talisman???

I remember watching the Juve vs Porto game on ESPN. The announcers were wondering when Sergio Olivera was going to step up and score, because he of course was their top scorer and I think at that time maybe 2nd or 3rd in the Liga. They didn't realize most of his goals were penalties and free kicks. From open play I think he only had a few. But he did hit that outrageous free kick from distance! If the had looked at open play goals they would realize he wasn't going to score anytime soon.

2) I have never doubted Ronaldo, nor would I. If someone wants to play into their 40's and still be a factor, that would be Ronaldo. Very few athletes are as committed to taking care of themselves and staying at a high level.

When had that knee issue(tendinosis,which he is still dealing with) at the 2014 WC. Many pundits after that said he was done at the highest level. Of course he went on to win the 2016 Ballon D'or. Then after the knee injury in the final against France, he struggled early on his comeback, and the doubters came to life. But the 2017 Ballon D'or silenced them.

But I can't turn my brain off when I see him trying to dribble and losing the ball or running into the defender as he is standing there. I can't remember here recently for the NT where he had a successful dribble near or in the box. Maybe he has, they are just drowned out by the pain of watching him lose it so easily.

If he wants to adapt to a more classical #9, then I think he and the team will thrive. He has great movement and anticipation. What is lacking is doing it more and hold up play.

You mentioned the build up through the middle was poor, I concur. Initially, it was mainly due to wrong personnel(out of form William). But also what about a target man? You know linking mid field with the forward line, hold up play. He does sometimes drop into the midfield to get the ball.

When Palinha burst through France, there was Ronaldo facing the goal, needing the ball at his feet to try to dribble the rest of the way. We saw how that turned out. Why didn't he keep running and opening up space for Palinha? There was no one ahead of Palinha, yet he felt obligated to pass to Ronaldo.

3) Pressing: They sure pressed Belgium. Wouldn't be better if the had a plan to do it, at least occasionally or intermittently?

I do think we are of the same thought, to quote you, "other top nations press. But I agree with you it's a part of our game which is conspicuously absent to our detriment. "

4) Players out of position, completely agree.

Finally, Nathan, maybe you or one of the other authors can do a article on Capping players, for example Konza, Marcos Paulo, Otavio, etc.

I would be interested in seeing how others felt about it.

I am all for it, if..........

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Great article. I didn't want it to end! But there is a major flaw in Nathan's suggestion of a back 3. That formation works well when you have 3+ outstanding CBs but as Nathan said, we barely have 2. That formation would be as disastrous as Fabio...

Great article. I didn't want it to end! But there is a major flaw in Nathan's suggestion of a back 3. That formation works well when you have 3+ outstanding CBs but as Nathan said, we barely have 2. That formation would be as disastrous as Fabio Capello's England.

My solution is playing with natural wingers like Guedes, Rafa and dare I say...Nani, who is in ridiculously good form. Yes it's MLS but I'd rather Nani than the invisible ghosts like Bruno Fernandes or Felix. We didn't have the "Quaresma secret weapon" this tournament to unlock games. Nani could've been that.

Also, Cancelo and Semedo started their careers as wingers and they attack better than they defend. I don't think it would be crazy to have either of them playing in front of Ricardo Pereira but that theory would need to be tested, obviously.

As for comments about Ronaldo's age, I don't give a flying ****. All that matters is whether he is performing and "stat-padding"? This is easy to say when we get knocked out but every penalty he took was a do-or-die situation in that moment. I'd rather him be there than 22-year-old Mbappe or 19-year-old Saka...the killer/winner mentality that both Ronaldo and Pepe have is something only a total fool would take for granted...

It's like Portugal fans would rather NOT have the tournament top scorer and serial winner. Unbelievable...My fury is on these young "superstars" that are constantly hyped did absolutely nothing...Maniche--remember him? Has more outstanding tournaments than this 80-90 million dollar valued players.

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I am with you on some of your points but we could have 3 good CBs if Danilo or William Drop back.

Our superstars are a bit overhyped and play on teams surrounded by world class talent. They are Mendes Marketing products.

We won the trophy with...

I am with you on some of your points but we could have 3 good CBs if Danilo or William Drop back.

Our superstars are a bit overhyped and play on teams surrounded by world class talent. They are Mendes Marketing products.

We won the trophy with a group of players who weren't exactly household names at that point... Adrien Silva, Jose Fonte, Renato Sanches, Cedric, Guerrero and some players who were considered washed up / no longer good ..Quaresma, Nani. On paper this current squad appears to be 10000% better than the one I just listed..however the results are wildly different. What's the difference? Our expectations.

Jota and Fernandes fizzled out in their respective seasons, Bernardo Silva has fallen out of favor it seems in Man City... Many fans chose to ignore this and were left puzzled at the results this Euro. I wasn't. Especially when I saw he was starting William Carvalho who has had horrendous luck with bad injuries + had little to no playing time all season. Then we find out Felix was hurt , didn't play Goncalves, didn't play Guedes.. meanwhile nani is scoring rockets left and right while dressing up like Abel Xavier across the pond .

We won't get into the double pivot debacle with players like Renato/Neves/Palhinha on the bench.

Yet..here were the fans..talking about how this would be the tourney we exploded offensively and Ronaldo would be able to take a back seat to this newer generation. HA-HA!

We are a collection of talent... However I wouldn't consider us a TEAM right now. I saw little chemistry, little cohesion within group and just alot of brilliant solo performances : Ronaldo, Renato, Pepe , Patricio and Palhinha.

Total reversal from 2016 when we had a group of tenacious players willing to run their butts off for the greater good.

This is starting to feel like Figo, Rui Costa and co. all over again..how we speak about how amazing these guys are and how this will be the year and pump up their performances for club but when the tourney for country starts... :: Fart noise:: nada.

Good news is the pipeline is bursting with talent and eventually we will get that right mix of players and coaching to take us to that next level..with the talent coming it's enivitable. If I'm involved in the fpf in anyway I'm pounding the table to start building the team around Renato. That's a potential phenom in the making and totally not in the typical Portuguese player mold.

However with this coach and group? I believe we just enjoy the ride ..let Ronaldo get the record.. let Pepe get one more tourney to cement his spot as one of the sports best all time...and hope the keys are turned over soon.

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Very well stated, "collection of talent", not a Team.

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I agree with everything except pedro neto, i think rafael leao should be rated higher than him and will prove it this upcoming season. He will be great for the seleção i can feel it, just needs to dedicate himself more and rid himself of his...

I agree with everything except pedro neto, i think rafael leao should be rated higher than him and will prove it this upcoming season. He will be great for the seleção i can feel it, just needs to dedicate himself more and rid himself of his attitude problems at times. Hes quick, skillful, strong, two footed has experience playing with an all star and would provide a presence in the air.

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Thanks for your comment! I do hope Leao becomes a factor this season and agree he has some very useful raw tools at his disposal. My fear is that some of those barriers you mentioned are very hard to overcome. Attitude problems and lack of...

Thanks for your comment! I do hope Leao becomes a factor this season and agree he has some very useful raw tools at his disposal. My fear is that some of those barriers you mentioned are very hard to overcome. Attitude problems and lack of dedication can be corrected, but only with great difficulty. He has a lot of work to do if he wants to overtake Trincao or Neto, let alone Andre Silva or Diogo Jota. Fabio Silva is in his second season at Wolves and may add further competition.

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I say that the Portuguese Football Federation should hire Nathan Motz to replace Fernando Santos.

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There's a reason why Southgate doesn't start the likes of Sancho,Rashford, Grealish etc... Team balance and chemistry is really important. Is Santos that bad? I have no clue. He seems to have lost very few games compared to Scolari and the past...

There's a reason why Southgate doesn't start the likes of Sancho,Rashford, Grealish etc... Team balance and chemistry is really important. Is Santos that bad? I have no clue. He seems to have lost very few games compared to Scolari and the past coaches. I think Paulo Bento's one was a superb team during the period of 2010-12 despite having lesser depth of talent. It's still an enigma, how Portugal having such tactically smart players and coaching staff had an underwhelming WC 2018 and Euro 2020. Underwhelming is not an appropriate word in this case, quite frankly, we were horrible in both of the tournaments. I'm a huge fan of Seleção's pre and post match press conference. Both players and coach have such an amazing insight and thoughts about the game, yet after the match we go to the dressing room empty handed. Every Portugal fan would think Draw is the likely result. If we are lucky, we may scrape a hard-fought narrow win. I still can't believe we scored 3 against Hungary and kept a clean sheets. I knew the moment Germany started to attack us, we would obviously concede a few in the first half itself. That Ronaldo goal goal was just a calm before the storm. In Sochi, we were countering well against Spain and once we scored, they started to control the game and we literally chased shadows for the next hour. I think our team has an obvious loophole and Germany is the only team that executed their plan to perfection. France are pragmatic as always, Mbappe is doing the diving duties of Henry. A moment of lazy defending and lapse of focus allowed Hazard to score the solitary goal in the RO16 game. Attack wise, we weren't unlucky, just wasn't convincing enough. Never ever we looked like we would score. I'm really upset. Opposition coaches say a lot of good things about us in the presser, and during the game even the coaches get surprised by our complacency. I don't know what to expect from Santos afterall these poor results. In the olden days, atleast we used to play pretty. Neither we play like that anymore nor we winning anything from pragmatism except for 2016 maybe. I'm not convinced by the prospect of other coaches. It would be interesting who would become the next Portugal coach. Will it be JJ? Jardim? Fonseca? SC?

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Nishanth, you need to join my ingenious plan to get Jorge Jesus and Sergio Conceicao to co-manage the Seleccao.

Jesus would be great for molding the younger players, attacking football and hilarious press conferences. Whereas Conceicao would...

Nishanth, you need to join my ingenious plan to get Jorge Jesus and Sergio Conceicao to co-manage the Seleccao.

Jesus would be great for molding the younger players, attacking football and hilarious press conferences. Whereas Conceicao would mold an impenetrable defence (which he has done at Porto), beat up match officials and opposition players and hilarious press conferences.

Plus, they're friends in real life. Believe! We can make it happen

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Both pairing together? One is going to be an assistant. Yeah, more of a fantasy though. JJ is a renowned bottler in Europe. His Benfica had two final appearances many years ago, lost both. International football is different anyways, who knows JJ...

Both pairing together? One is going to be an assistant. Yeah, more of a fantasy though. JJ is a renowned bottler in Europe. His Benfica had two final appearances many years ago, lost both. International football is different anyways, who knows JJ might turn Portugal into prime Brazil LOL. He has a history of trashtalking and getting sent off to the stands at times. Imagine, Semedo tackles a player and almost wins the ball, he rolls over the pitch, Semedo gets a yellow! JJ yells at every official standing on the ground. Gets sent off! Yep, not a good thing for the team. Then comes Sergio Conceição, an extremely passionate coach. He molds players into warriors. Another thing is, he was a part of the Euro 2000 team that had the coaches like Bento, Paulo Sousa, Sa Pinto etc... SC has a history of cussing and talking abusive words. Keeping those things aside, SC can make Portugal a tough tough team. Then comes Carlos Carvalhal. I heard that he has a lot of innovative ideas and as a person, he is pretty good. Jose Mourinho will never coach Portugal until the final few years of his coaching career. Fonseca, very unlikely. Paulo Sousa is a Poland coach. Sa Pinto, idk where he is right now. Both have poor track records. NES has favouritism issues. Moutinho hasn't retired yet, will be a matter of time until he gets the coaching badge. Leonardo Jardim? Wasn't he in the shortlist of FPF back in 2014? I still think, he is not the man. Ruben Amorim is an exciting prospect. It would be so tempting for him to coach the NT if FPF desires to have him. But he is a relatively new coach, taking the NT job can be too premature for him I guess. He's a youth sensation without a doubt. Bruno Lage just signed for Wolves. Rui Jorge? Would FPF do what English FA did to Southgate?

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Nathan, very good article. Gave me alot to think about as far as the team, formations, players and the coach.

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Interesting points made in the article, and I agree that in terms of talent available on paper and in theory, we should be one of the big favourites for winning the World Cup in Qatar, as I really firmly believe that no other national team in the...

Interesting points made in the article, and I agree that in terms of talent available on paper and in theory, we should be one of the big favourites for winning the World Cup in Qatar, as I really firmly believe that no other national team in the world (not even France) currently has a bigger abundance of real major talent across all positions, than Portugal do. For the last 3-4 years I have been thinking (and mentioning on this site and others) that winning the Qatar World Cup should be the big (and totally realistic) target and ambition for this amazing generation of talent the Selecao has available right now. Amazing young players keep emerging and developing, while the inspirational veterans like Ronaldo, Pepe and Moutinho should still be available for selection by Qatar. The time frame of Qatar has just seemed ideal as a realistic target and ambition for the last few years to me.

There's just one (rather big) flaw in this theory: the fact that Santos remains in charge and almost certainly will still be in charge by the time of Qatar! Now I starting thinking about the long-term target/ambition of winning the Qatar world cup even before the 2018 World Cup. But then our rather uninspiring performances in Russia made me feel a little less confident. The Nations League win the following year raised the spirits again temporarily, but then again the simply not good enough performances at Euro 2020, made me come to the conclusion that Santos is simply not the coach to take us all the way in Qatar.

Now I think for us to be able to win the World Cup in Qatar...one of two things is likely gonna have to happen (because Santos is clearly not gonna be replaced before then): 1. We will be able to win it again by playing in the similar conservative, pragmatic and reactionary way that we saw in 2016 (and that only slightly improved in 2018 and again this summer) 2. Santos is going to dramatically change his conservative and pragmatic approach and really become much more proactive and offensive and really get the best out of this amazing talent we have. I think in both cases, the most probable and realistic possibility is that neither will happen. And as a result of this, with Santos almost certainly still being in charge in Qatar, I will not have huge expectations of going all the way. If we had a positive, proactive and offensive coach who was bold and not afraid to attack and go for it against any opponent (the way we should be playing with this amazing crop of talent!)...then I'd be very confident that we'd be among the huge favourites to lift the World Cup. However, with Santos still in charge, I'm going to be a lot more cautious and realistic in my aspirations for Qatar.

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Thanks for commenting, Andre. It is a concern Santos may not change his theories much, but one thing about him is his willingness to try a lot of different personnel. I don't think he'll ever get to the point of using a 3-5-2, but I could see him...

Thanks for commenting, Andre. It is a concern Santos may not change his theories much, but one thing about him is his willingness to try a lot of different personnel. I don't think he'll ever get to the point of using a 3-5-2, but I could see him working back toward a 4-4-2 which he has used sparingly in the past.

Remember, the key is not necessarily just leaning toward a more attacking posture, it's balancing the squad through midfield, better identifying our strengths and allowing the character of our squad to develop. Renato was a huge part of that at Euro 2020 and should be again next year too. Santos did make changes to our team at Euro 2020, they just didn't work out. I'll always say our starting XI was perfect against Belgium. Just couldn't break them down, but we played them even better than Italy did in some ways. That's football.

Santos will retool the side and we have great quality. Even while not at our best, we were statistically one of the better sides at this Euros and we'll have our chance at the World Cup.

IMO, supporters should never expect a major championship victory based on talent alone. That's the recipe for bitter resentment when that scenario doesn't pan out. Rather, we should acknowledge it as a possibility based on talent and it will only become reality after luck, the tournament draw, injuries, etc have their say. Our hope should be Santos and the squad working to reach their maximum potential, a very high ceiling, and accept when that doesn't always work out. And fear not, this will be Santos' last tournament.

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Thank you Nathan, for writing a well thought out, balanced and thought-provoking article that addresses the very real concerns of Seleccao fans.

This piece should have been the first and only summary of the post- Euro 2020 Seleccao, and not...

Thank you Nathan, for writing a well thought out, balanced and thought-provoking article that addresses the very real concerns of Seleccao fans.

This piece should have been the first and only summary of the post- Euro 2020 Seleccao, and not the other offering that simply lambasts Seleccao fans who seek change as a bunch of disloyal neanderthals. I won't even mention the author as I feel that entire article is an affront to Seleccao fans who don't see things the same way as him.

I thought your points about the midfield were spot on. I do have some major concerns about defence as well. Ruben Dias was the invisible man this tournament, and it all fell to Pepe. I think Domingos Duarte could be molded into a proper replacement but he needs playing time. I very much liked what I saw in the 2 games I have seen him play. Nuno Mendes deserves playing time as well as I think he should take over from Guerreiro. Cancelo can be amazing if he learns how to defend properly.

I think that (going back to midfield), along with Renato, Palhinha must also be a starter. This is coming from a Porto and Danilo fan. But Palhinha brought a lot of bite and grit to the midfield in the 2 appearances he made. I think he has the right "it" factor that you need in a great DM: imposing, good positioning, fiery play, good tackles and he's even a good dribbler and passer.

I hope I am wrong in losing faith in Santos, but I just don't see him as the guy to take us to victory anymore. Great read, and thanks as always for your unique insights which are well-written and nuanced.

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Chris I am here mate, no need to be so vague when taking a cheap shot at an article I wrote that Tom edited, Nathan and others appeared to appreciate and had no problem with.

If only a few people agree with some of the points made in the...

Chris I am here mate, no need to be so vague when taking a cheap shot at an article I wrote that Tom edited, Nathan and others appeared to appreciate and had no problem with.

If only a few people agree with some of the points made in the article, then I think it was worth writing. It's possible Portugal can win the World Cup under Santos.

Santos made mistakes last month, particularly against Germany, which alone should have sparked a review from top to bottom. The FPF probably considered alternatives.

I don’t think 100% of Portuguese supporters want Santos out before the World Cup, nor do I expect 100% to think Portugal can win it under Santos.

I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Santos is sacked or resigns. I would be hopeful the new boss could select players that perform well individually, as a team and win a title.

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I make no quarrel with opinions that are opposed to mine, in fact I have always believed that discourse and disagreements is what makes humanity special.

I also see the value in potentially keeping Santos (for player cohesion), though that is...

I make no quarrel with opinions that are opposed to mine, in fact I have always believed that discourse and disagreements is what makes humanity special.

I also see the value in potentially keeping Santos (for player cohesion), though that is not the option I would take.

What I consider to be "cheap" is the passive aggressive tone taken towards those who think it's time for change.

The use of quotation marks when calling us Seleccao "fans", the term bandwagon as if to say we are pitchfork wielding cretins and the frankly clear opinion that you take of us as disloyal and plastic fans who want to throw the baby out with the bath-water, is what I take issue with.

The reason I appreciate Nathan's article is not because he seems to agree with my own beliefs but rather because he set out to make clear, analytical points and not to try and undermine fans on the other side of his opinion.

As a massive Porto fan who has always been vocal about supporting Benfica, Sporting or any other Portuguese team in European competition, I am no stranger to having an open mind or reaching out to the opposite side of the aisle.

But I do think that when one Seleccao fan talks down to another simply because they disagree with their opinion, and very obviously ignore some glaring holes in their own points, it makes things a fairly obvious hit piece.

Had you taken a more detached, analytical stance with your article, and actually made supporting points, instead of saying "Santos is still a tactical genius because he makes substitutions", then maybe I would have applauded you.

I hope you can also see that I consistently comment on your article, not you personally, as an important distinction. This is because I do not de-value or fail to appreciate your other contributions to this website.

My only point, one which you are free to take or leave, is that many of us here love a good back and forth discussion. But we don't think it should come down to questioning people's convictions or loyalty simply because we don't see things the same way as you.

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@Nathan...some add ons to some more good points you made in reply to my comment. Yeah I agree it's not simply a matter of getting more all out attack, but rather it is indeed a question of balance. And that balance is usually brought about by...

@Nathan...some add ons to some more good points you made in reply to my comment. Yeah I agree it's not simply a matter of getting more all out attack, but rather it is indeed a question of balance. And that balance is usually brought about by more control in midfield. Yes I absolutely agree that midfield was our biggest issue at this tournament. If we had had more control in CM then our defence would have likely been stronger and our attack more threatening. I'm going to take the examples of two teams (who met in the semi final) as examples of teams that we (or rather Santos) could learn a lot from, in order to improve:

Firstly, Spain and their midfield. Yes, Spain get criticism (from myself included) for their at times aimless tiki taka...but one thing is for sure, when you dominate the ball like that for most of the match you ALWAYS have a big chance of winning. If your opponent rarely has the ball, they can't harm you. Portugal in the past (up until Bento took charge) used to be so much better at keeping possession and dominating the proceedings in the CM. We need to get that back. Let's put it this way, if we could have held the ball better and dominated more in the CM, there's no way that debacle against Germany would have happened (it's no coincidence that Spain always seems to beat Germany!)...the worst thing you can ever do against Germany is let them have the ball and attack you! I'm not saying we should play tiki taka, but we should definitely get a lot more dynamic and dominant in CM, like we used to be.

Secondly, Italy and their proactive and offensive play. Italy had failed to qualify for WC 2018 and were in the doldrums before Mancini took charge and completely revolutionised them. Primarily by focusing on a proactive and attacking style that reaped it's rewards in the end. Look how much energy Italy played with in every match, when they lost the ball every single player gave 100% effort to win the ball back and start attacking again. And above all Italy were entertaining with their style of play (sport is entertainment after all!)...and even had Italy lost one of those penalty shootouts and gone out, they would have still been praised as one of the most entertaining teams at the tournament... but rather I believe they got their rewards in the end for playing positive football throughout and always playing to win.

Portugal under Santos in contrast, are all too often wishy washy and lackadaisical in their play, with the players not giving 100% effort throughout. Or at least until we are behind in the match. The Belgium match was a good example. I agree, we were definitely the better team overall and were very unlucky to lose that night. But again we only really started playing and giving everything once Belgium had taken the lead in the first half ..this is what I mean by the "reactionary" football of Santos. I would much rather see us, like Italy did, play proactively and with intensity right from the start of matches. Will we ever see that with Santos? Its doubtful!

Lastly, I too would love to see us start playing with 3 centre backs...a 3-4-3 or especially a 3-5-2. I think considering the players we have at our disposal, this would be the most dynamic and stable formation and allow players (i.e Bernardo, João Felix, Cancelo) to play in their best positions. Centre back is possibly the position we have least depth in, so it makes sense to play 3 in central defence for extra defensive solidity (Danilo could definitely be the 3rd CB). Also as you mentioned Nathan, we have some outstanding attacking full backs like Cancelo and Nuno Mendes, but we don't have the abundance of wingers that we used to, so it makes total sense to play a formation that allows the wingbacks to provide the attacking width. I also think a 3-5-2 would enable Bernardo to play his best position (an offensive central midfielder or true number 10) and Felix to play in his (a mobile second striker playing just behind a true number 9 centre forward). Again though, will we see this from Santos? Remains to be seen. Anyways cheers mate for the fascinating article!

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I love the 3 back idea but just apprehensive of how this works out going forward, both Pepe and Fonte will be out after the World Cup I assume, and Danillo wasn't a true CB but is being developed as one I believe, however we now the problems of...

I love the 3 back idea but just apprehensive of how this works out going forward, both Pepe and Fonte will be out after the World Cup I assume, and Danillo wasn't a true CB but is being developed as one I believe, however we now the problems of playing players out of their natural positions.

I'm not as abreast of the younger talent pool in ranks for CB so I will be keeping an eye out for them as I believe this is crucial to the winning formation.

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One thing I forgot to mention was, we really lack a maestro in the midfield who can keep the ball glued at his feet, sprays the ball all over the park, never misplaces a pass, excellent ball recovery etc and etc. Spain has Busquets/Koke. Germany...

One thing I forgot to mention was, we really lack a maestro in the midfield who can keep the ball glued at his feet, sprays the ball all over the park, never misplaces a pass, excellent ball recovery etc and etc. Spain has Busquets/Koke. Germany have Kroos. Italy have Veratti. Croatia has Modric. Belgium has Kdb(although he plays further upfront). Who do we have? We haven't yet found a Moutinho replacement. I thought William would be the guy and he has been but no more. William's career has gone downhill. There's a reason why Santos fielded the Velvet tank despite his awful form and declining energy. He has the characteristics that no Portuguese midfielder has. He has the qualities of a No.6,No.8 and a No.10. He is excellent on the ball even though his size makes us believe he's not. Renato Sanches is more of a B2B- bombarding player. He's not a keeper. Ruben Neves is a utility player. Can't put Bernardo in CM position, that would be awkward for him since we play a different system than Man City. I don't think William would ever be great again. He has a lot of injury issues. The back injury especially ruined his game. We need a midfield support for Renato, so that he can play his natural game while the former dictates the tempo of the game. A ball winner to support both of these can be Joao Palhinha. Our midfield is the culprit I think. Santos has very few convincing options to choose from. I don't think we are lightweight in CB department. Pepe, Dias,Danilo(reliable), Duarte and Fonte. Quite decent options. As for the forwards, I'm convinced that Felix is the generational talent. Been a long time since I saw such an amazingly gifted footballer. I've never seen a Portuguese player playing with such flair up until recently keeping all of our legends aside. Once Felix clicks with the NT, sky is the limit. He has admirers all over the world and he would bring a lot of new fans to support Portugal. Sad to see things not working for Bruno. I guess the only position he's capable of playing is CAM. He was a no.8 before, but no longer excels in that position, I hope I'm wrong. I think once Trincao becomes mature, he could bench Bernardo Silva. Then we have the likes of Neto and Leap(Leao's best position is #9 by the way). I think Andre Silva will become the traditional striker for Portugal once Cristiano retires.

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