Portugal’s long campaign to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup culminated in a convincing 2-0 victory against North Macedonia in the playoff final at Estádio do Dragão.

Fernando Santos has a great opportunity to fine-tune his squad in the UEFA Nations League where the Seleção will square off against Spain, Switzerland and Czech Republic.

PortuGOAL’s Matthew Marshall discusses the evolution of the squad, Santos and the future for Portugal ahead of the World Cup draw which takes place in Doha this afternoon.

Goalkeeper

Fernando Santos sprung a surprise in the playoffs with Diogo Costa replacing long time shot stopper Rui Patrício. 34-year-old Patrício has been below his best at Roma and Anthony Lopes was injured with José Sá the third keeper in the squad after consistent performances at Wolves.

Costa proved he is a top quality goalkeeper at the 2021 U21 European Championship, after which I stated on the Seleção Podcast that he should be first choice for Porto and is likely to be Patrício’s long term successor.

The 22-year-old made his senior debut against Qatar in September and started both matches at the Dragão, performed well despite limited involvement and looks to have become Portugal’s new number one.

Central defence

José Fonte was ordinary in the second half against Turkey. He has provided good service to his nation, but it’s time for the 38-year-old to move on.

Pepe did well against North Macedonia, can still be relied on and will be doing everything in his power to compete at the World Cup.

Danilo recovered well after a poor start against Turkey and was impressive against North Macedonia. He continues to be an option in central defence if required, but younger options should start getting game time for the Seleção.

Rúben Dias turns 25 in May and his long-term partners are becoming clearer. Gonçalo Inácio and Tiago Djaló were both called up while David Carmo still has time to prove his worth.

Left-back

The emergence of 19-year-old Nuno Mendes has been fantastic for Portugal and he started ahead of Raphaël Guerreiro against North Macedonia. Guerreiro, for so long an undisputed starter, now has a significant fight on his hands.

Right-Back

João Cancelo was below his best against North Macedonia but the Manchester City star is an obvious starter.

Santos has shown faith in Diogo Dalot who was selected ahead of Cédric Soares in the playoffs.

Ricardo Pereira and Nélson Semedo will also be desperate to make the World Cup squad.

Midfield

Santos has a wealth of versatile options in the midfield. João Moutinho started in the playoffs, the boy from Portimão has been a joy to watch for the Seleção, but Danilo Pereira and João Palhinha are ahead of him in the holding role, while Rúben Neves’ injury was unfortunate.

William Carvalho and Matheus Nunes also can fill that role with Vitinha another versatile midfielder who made his senior debut off the bench.

Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes are untouchable in Santos’ starting side. Bernardo is a constant weapon who is simply outstanding in all facets of the game.

Bruno showed his class by scoring twice against North Macedonia, but it’s always dangerous to judge a player by goals and assists alone. He is a supreme organiser off the ball and constantly directing teammates to cover opponents and space.

His tendency to try high risk passes often sees Portugal lose possession and immediately have to defend counter attacks. Santos needs to work on minimising the danger on those occasions.

It’s unrealistic to expect match winning performances every game, but it’s easy to see why Santos persists with the Manchester United playmaker.

Otávio started against Turkey and rewarded Santos with a goal, an assist, and man of the match performance. He has been Porto’s best player for years with his versatility, skill and aggression key attributes that are effective in Santos’ system.

João Mário’s lack of game time at Benfica and the emergence of other options means the 29-year-old could struggle to add to his 50 caps.

Renato Sanches was another absentee in the playoffs, but if he can overcome persistent injuries and be fit and healthy at the right time, he can regain his spot in the starting side.

Forwards

Cristiano Ronaldo’s tendency to waste time complaining after losing the ball or not being awarded free kicks can become monotonous, but after earning 186 caps and scoring 115 international goals, it’s not something that is expected to change any time soon.

Ronaldo has earned the right to be untouchable, but it would be welcome to see alternative free kick takers and Santos willing to take him off in the closing stages of matches when he is no longer required.

Santos has shown plenty of faith in Diogo Jota who has been keeping João Félix on the bench, two young, world-class forwards with more scope for improvement.

André Silva has different attributes and continues to compete for a spot up front. Rafael Leão and Gonçalo Guedes can start if required but are more suitable in a 4-3-3 formation or offering width and pace off the bench.

Rafa Silva is another useful squad player who can make a difference in any match. 

Pedro Neto suffered a serious knee injury in April 2021, less than two weeks after earning his third cap in a substitute appearance in Luxembourg where he registered two assists. He has plenty of time to get back to full fitness and show Santos he deserves a recall.

Fernando Santos & the future

Santos is never going to stop attracting criticism, criticism I and many others find tedious and unrealistic. He said he would walk away if Portugal failed to qualify for the World Cup and you can be assured he will be leading the team in Qatar.

It would take a colossal failure in the UEFA Nations League for the FPF to consider sacking the man they have stood by for so long, not to mention a contract that expires in 2024.

Fernando Santos was trying everything in his power to drive the team forward after they continually retreated against Serbia. Sometimes human psychology in a match situation can override the ability to follow instructions.

This is just one instance of many when players had to take responsibility on the pitch after being put into a position to succeed.

Santos couldn’t have done much more to put Bruno Fernandes into a position to succeed for the Seleção. He might not be brilliant every game, but he is a match winner as proved against North Macedonia.

Many seem to forget or overlook the fact that during Santos' eight years in charge, Portugal have produced one top class central defender.

Pepe made his international debut in 2007. The situation was so dire that Santos called up the aging Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves at Euro 2016.

Santos gave Rúben Dias his debut in 2018, but there haven’t been other realistic options until now with Gonçalo Inácio, Tiago Djaló and David Carmo all coming through simultaneously.

Is it Santos’ fault that a nation which consistently competes and wins titles at youth level has done so without developing high class centre-backs? And that’s not even counting players that were born in Brazil and the former African colonies.

Is it Santos’ fault that Diogo Leite and Diogo Queirós haven’t made the grade, or that previous youth managers including Rui Jorge persisted with that pairing for so long at the expense of Djaló?

Santos has consistently brought youngsters through and given them their chance, as evidenced by promoting Diogo Costa a lot earlier than expected.

Inácio, Djaló and David Carmo are next in line which should give Seleção supporters plenty of optimism that the long standing issues in central defence will finally be overcome.

As I wrote in my bandwagon piece, there are many arguments that can be made for sticking with Santos. More significantly, it’s important to understand why the FPF have stuck by him despite failing to reach the quarter-finals at the 2018 World Cup and 2020 European Championship.

The world has enough negativity in it and I refuse to allow negativity to influence how I perceive Portugal, Santos and their chances of winning a football match or a tournament.

Club connections can make a difference in international football and Portugal have two made in Manchester.

There is absolutely no reason why Portugal can’t win the 2022 World Cup. Luck plays a big role with injuries, form and the draws all playing their part.

If Portugal have a bit of luck, Santos gets his tactics right and players fulfil their potential, they can lift the World Cup trophy on 18 December which would be one of the greatest moments in the history of a nation, and the ultimate achievement for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Believe.

Força!

Key Dates in 2022

UEFA Nations League

2 June - Spain vs Portugal

5 June - Portugal vs Switzerland

9 June - Portugal vs Czech Republic

12 June - Switzerland vs Portugal

24 September - Czech Republic vs Portugal

27 September - Portugal vs Spain

FIFA World Cup

24 November - Portugal vs Ghana

28 November - Portugal vs Uruguay

2 December - Portugal vs Korea Republic

18 December - World Cup final

Comments (17)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Enjoyed this, there is certainly a lot to be looking forward to.

I think you hit the nail on the head with the starting XI, and I think this will be our lineup for the next little while. A Santos lineup that could feature Bernardo and Bruno was...

Enjoyed this, there is certainly a lot to be looking forward to.

I think you hit the nail on the head with the starting XI, and I think this will be our lineup for the next little while. A Santos lineup that could feature Bernardo and Bruno was almost unimaginable a few months ago. Although it maybe wasn’t too hard for some of us to see, kudos to Santos and his crew for figuring it out.

With a fit Sanches, he could create massive problems for other teams down that right side. Hopefully we can see him back soon. In the games that he’s played recently, he has been superb playing RM/RCM. Although they didn’t win, he really gave Chelsea some problems in that first leg. In addition to this, when Ben Andre was out with suspension, Renato came in to play a deep CDM and was spectacular. We’ll need his physicality for the tournament. I would also love to see Nunes somehow worked into this XI, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards just yet.

I’m unsure about Jota as a striking partner with Ronaldo. He’s a phenomenal player and absolute goal-machine as of late, but I’m not sure how well he and Ronaldo work together. Jota is many things, but he’s typically not a play-maker (great assist on Bruno’s 2nd goal though). He’s managed only 3 assists for Liverpool in all comps, and last year only had 1 PL assist. If Ronaldo wasn’t in the XI, then I’d say Jota would be a sure starter. If Ronaldo is starting, I think Felix would be the better option. He’s a little more versatile, is a great dribbler, play maker, and has lots of experience of playing off a main ST. These last few months he’s genuinely become a very complete player who looks mature on the ball and actually defends quite well (things that didn’t look possible when he first arrived in Madrid). I do want to make a case for Andre Silva as well. He and Ronaldo play well together, and as well being a solid hold-up striker, he links play well and is capable of producing assists. He’s got 8 assists in all comps (as well as 15 goals) even though he had a very slow start to life in Leipzig. Leao could even be an option up top.

Exciting times, but also lots of work to be done!

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Teresa
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From now and the world up, 8 months to go.

Hope to have the team in their best form and sprit.

I hope to see Ricardo Pereira in the squad.

Neville
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That's a good article, beautifully analysed.

Good job Mathew.

Neville
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The "Santos hate brigade" is a ridiculous label, as one could flip that and say, the "Santos apologist brigade". Anyone who says we have been brilliant for the last 4 years, let me say that again 4 years, doesn't understand football. Post 2016...

The "Santos hate brigade" is a ridiculous label, as one could flip that and say, the "Santos apologist brigade". Anyone who says we have been brilliant for the last 4 years, let me say that again 4 years, doesn't understand football. Post 2016 failures with quality squads in 2018 and 2021 and a poor qualifying campaign would get 90% of managers the boot-let me be more frank, both games we just won were at a level that will not win a world cup, being realistic, unless you build some crazy momentum suddenly. We have regressed with arguably one of the best international squads in world football, at least comparable.

Constructive criticism of what is obvious to someone who understands football is not a pessimist or doesn't want their country to win but rather someone who sees potential in what could be. You think for one second, that a more progressive, modern tactical coach with some history of success wouldn't have us playing better than what has been seen lately, come on, that's a joke and a betting man would take that anyway, I can think of 2 portugues and 2 Spanish managers that would fit the bill nicely right now.

We have not developed a style, way or rhythm of playing at all, it's constantly changing as performance (not results) are underwhelming and that catches up to you when you play the best teams.

You listed all these great players who get played in a way that doesn't suit their biggest assets, cancelo and Mendes offer more of you allow them to push higher up and get forward more, or allow cancelo to play further inside and Mendes hold the width.

Bruno and otavio offer such similarities that playing g both means you lose pace and ball carrying ability from a winger, like leao who everything he steps on the field bests 3 players and crosses a dangerous ball.

With midfield injuries I understood one game for moutinho, but you had no ball carrier, no athleticism in midfield, and forced Bernardo to play too deep. I SAW Nunes play against man city and run the show twice but he can't play against North Macedonia?

Every team, even less talented nations can switch to a back 3 but we can't? I heard him say once, we didn't have players for that, what????? We have a ton that already play in a back 3 and the others I I sure will get it.

This is not a "hate brigade" This is a reality check of what has happened in the last 2 years mostly and on the back of a poor qualifying campaign and off the back of a squad that is incredible with quality young players who can't get in.

Forca portugal!

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Joe
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@Joe: THANKS! 1000% correct. The Santos hate brigade“ is as ridiculous label as „breaking down the bandwagon“ was - you remember that article from Matthew? (Too) many, including the author like to have a short memory. The qualification is like a...

@Joe: THANKS! 1000% correct. The Santos hate brigade“ is as ridiculous label as „breaking down the bandwagon“ was - you remember that article from Matthew? (Too) many, including the author like to have a short memory. The qualification is like a pill that suddenly quiets people, but the perspective remains the same. And it is far from being a bright perspective.

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Rolf Gerber
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I think Santos should have two different set ups and the XI suggested in the article could actually cover both. Versus the bigger nations, we have the players to play a 5-3-2 with Cancelo and Mendes providing the width. Danilo is the key here in...

I think Santos should have two different set ups and the XI suggested in the article could actually cover both. Versus the bigger nations, we have the players to play a 5-3-2 with Cancelo and Mendes providing the width. Danilo is the key here in that he can easily drop into the CB position witb Pepe and whoever partners him in the end. Portugal can win the World Cup, but Santos really has to fine tune things beforehand.

Filipe

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Filipe da Silva
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@Filipe: we all know, Santos won‘t do that. Greetings from the „Santos hate brigade“

Rolf Gerber
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Great article, Matthew! And YES!!! That is the exact formation I been screaming about for years for this team to play! The core players on the Seleção a more adapt to play the 442 diamond(41212). I hope he sticks with this and is able to get...

Great article, Matthew! And YES!!! That is the exact formation I been screaming about for years for this team to play! The core players on the Seleção a more adapt to play the 442 diamond(41212). I hope he sticks with this and is able to get Sanches in the right centermid role for then WC. Bruno Fernandes will shine playing in this formation as well, IMHO.

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Sam Costa
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There's alot of players that can be used hopefully in nations league he brings players to try Diego Costa and Jose sa are very good keepers we have I also believe in form right now Jose sa should be the number 1 based on play this year in...

There's alot of players that can be used hopefully in nations league he brings players to try Diego Costa and Jose sa are very good keepers we have I also believe in form right now Jose sa should be the number 1 based on play this year in premier league in c b there's good options and young players but does Santos move things around and drop fonte because pepe is the only 1 over 35 I would bring and hopefully ruben semedo gets some games in porto and keeps his head on right path

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Ricky Almeida
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Yes, if only Ruben Sanedo had his head on his shoulder, he would be one of the best Central defenders in Europe.

Hope he gets the opportuniy to play alongside Pepe at Porto and prove himself for a call by Santos.

Neville
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According to "Stevie" from ESPN, we got lucky against Turkey and Macedonian, and we don't stand a chance at getting out of our group. I blame Santos for comments like that. His "negative" tactics have left us vulnerable to washed-up naysayers....

According to "Stevie" from ESPN, we got lucky against Turkey and Macedonian, and we don't stand a chance at getting out of our group. I blame Santos for comments like that. His "negative" tactics have left us vulnerable to washed-up naysayers. Ruud (Dil) Gullit called us scared. We play scared and underperform. Again, I blame Santos.

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DanielDaSilva
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Don't worry about what Steve Nichol says. If anything, you should pity a man who's IQ level reflects room temperature.

Chris
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Matthew with the shots fired! Lol, you're definitely justified considering the results.

But, I find myself disagreeing with one thing you say, though, you may be surprised to hear what it is.

Santos has definitely shown, with his back...

Matthew with the shots fired! Lol, you're definitely justified considering the results.

But, I find myself disagreeing with one thing you say, though, you may be surprised to hear what it is.

Santos has definitely shown, with his back against the wall, he is capable of change and adaptation. Now, let's hope he can find a comfortable attacking gameplan.

I was happy to see, finally, a pressing game. Portugal went after the ball when they did not have it and did not just afford the opposition space.

There are still things to improve, but these playoff games actually benefitted us and helped instill some much needed urgency.

I agree 100% with you on the CB issue, that is not Santos's fault, but those of us who have criticised him have rarely faulted him for that. It has always been a question of tactics and lacking identity. It was good to see him make some improvements in both areas, but he still has some way to go in order to get us where we need to be.

The main thing I disagree with, or that I would say is of no importance, is the last sentence. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Ronaldo, but this is not and cannot be about him.

Above Ronaldo, or any one player or manager, is the team, always. Does Ronaldo deserve the World Cup? For me that is irrelevant because it is Portugal first and foremost that deserves the World Cup. I bring this up only because we learned over these 2 games that Ronaldo cannot be expected to put the team on his shoulders.

And with the talent on hand, the philosophy should not be, "how do we get Ronaldo to win the World Cup" but rather, how does Ronaldo fit into each game in addition to all the other players, in order to get the best result. This is a problem for Santos. I cannot remember the last time Ronaldo was subbed off in a Portugal shirt. I am not being ridiculous and saying he should not start, he is far too good to not start.

But, for me, it's about what challenge each game presents. Say for example, we get a 1-0 lead against Uruguay, we are 60 mins in, and Ronaldo has scored, but now faded. We need an approach where he is at least a consideration to be subbed off so we can get Felix, Andre Silva or whomever, up front to press the opposition.

I hope what I am writing is making sense, because I can appreciate the support and reverence for Santos (even if I feel differently). But if Santos is indeed to take this team forward, the changes he made in the playoff games must continue until he has the best interest of the team as the objective for each game.

Cheers.

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Chris
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Neville
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Lol, you got a laugh out of me. Clearly, you're still sour from our last exchange.

Let me explain to you, this is football, a sport we all enjoy, and no reason to remain offended or get angry with one another.

Considering the length of my...

Lol, you got a laugh out of me. Clearly, you're still sour from our last exchange.

Let me explain to you, this is football, a sport we all enjoy, and no reason to remain offended or get angry with one another.

Considering the length of my post, I think this was the correct and hilarious emoji to post.

That said, I think I made some decent points.

Cheers.

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Chris
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Joe said it all.

Toxic positivity isn't anymore more helpful than negativity. Stop confusing feedback for negativity.

I'm not even sure you believe what you write. I think you look for controversial takes. You belong on First Take, Stephen A....

Joe said it all.

Toxic positivity isn't anymore more helpful than negativity. Stop confusing feedback for negativity.

I'm not even sure you believe what you write. I think you look for controversial takes. You belong on First Take, Stephen A. in training.

He was doing "everything in his power to drive the team forward'" lol. He might have tried actually doing something, you know, tactically. Maybe realize we were getting overwhelmed in the middle because modern systems typically will do that with 4 and 5 man midfields. Just because he is jumping up and down waving like my crazy tio doesn't mean he was doing everything in his power.

Bruno and Ronaldo are having a horrible time together at club level, how would that make the difference? What an odd thing to say. United's season has been a tire fire. There are so many issues with that club that it can't be good for either of them. Bruno has been poor in almost every game he has played for Portugal. He was lucky to start because he hasn't deserved it in a Portugal shirt.

Great, Santos isn't at fault for our CB depth, so therefore he is excused for the run of poor results and performances since 2018. If only we had a CB we would have beat Serbia at home and maybe even won the 2018 WC. I think most of us know that the players need to take responsibility as well and it's not all on Santos, but let's not be naive. The coach is a problem and when a team struggles for form like Portugal has, the coach is what changes not the players.

I get it. It's difficult to break up with Santos. It's like realizing it's no longer working out with your first love. Some of us realize it and aren't afriad to act. Others just drag it out and hope they break up with you first because it's easier. But Portugal is a pretty good caught and the sooner we realize we can do better than Santos the better. You just need confidence. I'm surprised with all that positivity, you aren't full of it.

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JP
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Great article, great BBC interview, keep it up,
Drink more coffee, keep writing...

John Martin
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