The Seleção finished an unusually smooth Euro 2024 qualification campaign with two routine wins over Liechtenstein and Iceland to make it ten straight victories under Spanish coach Roberto Martínez.
It is the first time Portugal have won every one of their matches in a qualifying campaign for a major tournament, and the swagger shown in many of the goal-laden victories has re-enthused the Seleção fan base after things had gone stale under Fernando Santos.
In addition to new tactical approaches that appear to have unlocked Portugal’s offensive firepower, a major theme of the Martínez era has been the emergence of Bruno Fernandes as the team’s chief orchestrator.
Coming of age for the Seleção
Although nobody doubts Fernandes is a world-class talent, the Manchester United captain struggled to replicate his stupendous club form when wearing a Portugal shirt in the initial years of his international career.
However, even before the Portuguese Football Federation and Fernando Santos parted ways after an eight-year marriage following the 2022 World Cup, there were clear signs that Bruno was becoming an ever-more important player for his national team.
He was man-of-the-match in the 2-0 victory over North Macedonia in the World Cup playoff final, and was one of Portugal’s best performers in Qatar.
It is under Martínez, though, that Fernandes has gone up another level and become Portugal’s most potent attacking weapon. Ironically, at a time when some are questioning his contribution at club level, the Seleção No.8 has found consistency when playing for his country.
Bruno scored 6 goals, provided 8 assists and was at the heart of almost everything the Seleção did in Euro 2024 qualification Group J from an attacking point of view.
Fresh from another brilliant goal in the 2-0 victory over Iceland last night at his former home, Sporting’s Alvalade stadium, Fernandes spoke after the final whistle and his role as a leader of the team was evident.
“We were very professional, intelligent and knew how to read the different phases of the match. Everyone contributed and it was important for each player to understand that each of us is important in his own way.”
When asked to comment on the impact Martínez has had on the Seleção, Fernandes said: “He has brought new ideas and a different gameplan to Fernando Santos, which is working well and we are happy. Now we have to look forward. Not everything was bad under Mister Fernando, and not everything is perfect now. We know that perfection doesn’t exist but we want to get as close to it as possible.”
“A modern playmaker”
Martínez himself has gone to great lengths to praise Fernandes throughout the campaign, and reiterated his admiration for the midfielder in the post-match press conference yesterday. Invited to opine on whether he considers Bruno Fernandes “indispensable” by PortuGOAL reporter Matthew Marshall, the Spaniard replied:
“There are many adjectives you could use to describe him. Bruno Fernandes plays in many positions; he doesn’t just play in a single system. He can be the man starting the move, or he can be on the end of it.
“When you have exceptional technical quality, and you’re a player with his personality and desire, it makes him vital. That’s the reason he’s a modern playmaker.
“He’s a great example for our young players like João Neves. When young players train with someone like Bruno Fernandes, it helps them in their development.”
Bruno Fernandes will be 29 years old when the European Championship kicks off in Germany next year and at the peak of his powers. Should he continue his current form, he may well fire the Seleção to the most memorable of summers.
By Tom Kundert