It was not a World Cup preparatory exercise that Fernando Santos or the emigrant Portuguese fans in Switzerland were hoping for as the Seleção put in two sub-par performances against Egypt and the Netherlands.
It can be argued the poor displays were not necessarily a bad thing, with Santos himself, while accepting responsibility for the heavy defeat against the Oranje, saying: “there are always positives to take from games, even if it’s just a question of helping me make the final selection.”
Who furthered their chances of getting into Portugal’s World Cup squad and who didn’t? PortuGOAL runs the rule over how each individual performed and assesses the chances of each one of them being in the final 23-man list who will represent the Seleção in Russia.
Had little to do in Portugal’s opening friendly versus the Egyptians. Yet, the Goztepe man performed well when called upon making a handful of admirable saves, and there was little he could do about Salah’s wonder-strike. Although he’s Portugal's third-choice keeper, he’s yet to put in a worrisome display for the Seleção - prompting me to assume his place in Russia is secure.
Despite conceding three goals versus the Dutch, Lopes - like Beto against Egypt - had little to do. It would be harsh to penalise Lyon's number one for any of the goals as there was little he could do. However, conceding three goals never paints a pretty picture for any goalkeeper. Portugal's number two, like Beto, is yet to have a bad game for Portugal, meaning his spot is undoubtedly a certainty.
Sporting's number one failed to register a single minute over the course of the two friendlies, but he’s one of Portugal’s players whose starting berth is a certainty. No rating.
Cédric's form for Southampton has been turbulent this season. Despite usually being one of the Seleção's most reliable performers, it appears as though his club form has affected his all-round game. Against the Egyptians, his attacking support was ineffective. However, as often is the case with Cédric, he was rarely troubled defensively. Regardless of his performance, I believe his seat on the plane to Russia is a certainty.
There’s no doubting that these friendlies were an audition for Cancelo to stake his claim as Portugal’s second right-back for the World Cup. Cancelo failed to grasp this opportunity. Against the Dutch, his passing was lacklustre, his defensive positioning was off, and to make matters worse - he was sent off. Given the competition for a spot at right-back with Ricardo Pereira and Nélson Semedo also in the running, I think Cancelo's chances of making it to Russia are very slim indeed.
Fonte only featured in Portugal’s torrid encounter with the Dutch and failed to impress, spurring further alarm bells surrounding Portugal’s scarcity of options at centre-back. Fonte’s lack of playing time against quality opposition was clear for all to bare witness to. His match sharpness was clearly lacking and he rarely won any fifty-fifty balls. Despite this, barring injury, I think Fonte's place to Russia is a certainty - perhaps highlighting how desperate the Seleção are in this position.
The Marseille man featured the most over the two friendly encounters of any of Portugal’s centre-backs. Yet, he was arguably the most disappointing of all of them - putting in two lacklustre performances which have surely re-opened the door for Benfica’s Rúben Dias.
Despite many saying otherwise, Bruno Alves, has always been a consistent performer for Portugal. However, his performance versus the Egyptians illustrated that his ageing limbs have finally got the better of him. Nevertheless, Santos has always said that age is not a factor when he’s assembling the squad, and I still expect to see him in the squad this summer.
The Fenerbahce man, like most of Portugal’s centre-backs, has struggled for game time this season. However, of the four centre-backs to feature in this week’s friendlies Neto was arguably the most assured and composed of them all. However, he was only called up due to Rúben Dias’ injury, and with Pepe set to return from injury in the coming weeks, it’s highly unlikely that Neto will be called up next time round.
Many were perplexed by Guerreiro’s call-up given that he’s only played 160 minutes since the New Year for his club. However, he dispelled any sense of doubt surrounding his fitness against Egypt, reminding Seleção fans how valuable he is to them. He was sharp, creative and galloped down Portugal’s left-hand side as if he’d been doing so week-in-week-out all season. Indeed, should he remain fit, he is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s most important squad members and will most certainly have a place in the squad for the World Cup.
Napoli’s left-back only featured against the Dutch and was arguably the most promising of all of Portugal’s players in that match. He was composed in possession, supported attacks well and displayed that he’s a threat in front of goal, too. He may be third choice for Portugal right now, but with Coentrão and Guerreiro both alarmingly injury prone, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him in the squad amidst the fitness concerns surrounding Coentrão and Guerreiro.
Wolves’ maestro only featured versus the Egyptians, and despite a handful of nervy blips, he illustrated how talented he is. His ability to pick a pass, whether a 60-yard cross-field ball or a five-yard pass, is a true spectacle. With William Carvalho and Danilo expected to return from injury and reclaim their spots in the Seleção squad, Neves is unlikely to make it to Russia. However, his performance confirmed that Portugal are in good hands at centre-midfield for the next decade.
Moutinho has been Portugal’s most consistent midfielder over the last decade and his efficient, solid performances this weekend reaffirmed how valuable he is to the Seleção. He only featured in the second-half against the Dutch, and without him it was clear that the Portugal midfield lacked structure and cohesion. His place is all but confirmed this summer.
Sporting’s former captain has had a torrid time since his botched move to Leicester, and his performance against Holland perhaps epitomised his fortunes of late. With him and André Gomes occupying Portugal’s central midfield, the Seleção lacked any form of cohesion ro understanding, prompting the Dutch to penetrate these areas with ease. Adrien was one of Portugal’s key players throughout their European triumph two years ago, but does that warrant him a place in the squad despite others performing admirably all season? Although he doesn’t deserve to be there on the basis of form, I still think he’ll be there. His ability to stifle creativity in the opposition’s midfield is something none of Portugal’s other midfielders possess, and could be a particularly effective weapon against the likes of Spain.
The performances of Sporting’s playmaker over the two friendlies differed greatly. Against Egypt, his cameo was impressive, as his energy and constant drive to get forward spurred life into an otherwise dead Portugal side. Against the Dutch, however, he was a lonely figure accompanying Ronaldo up top and found it increasingly difficult to put his stamp on the game and dictate it as he so often does for Sporting. He’s undoubtedly one of Portugal’s standout performances this season and deserves a place in the squad. But given the stern competition in midfield, it’s unclear as to whether he did enough to convince Santos.
Like his namesake - Bruno - Manuel Fernandes has been one of Portugal’s standout performers this season. However, his performance against Holland did his chances of a call-up no favours. He was by no means the worst performer for Portugal, yet he failed to shine when given a golden opportunity. When it comes to the squad announcement in May, it appears that only one of the Fernandes is likely to make it, making it difficult to predict which of them will make the cut.
André Gomes had a torrid time over Portugal’s two outings this past week. Positionally he appeared to be lost and on the ball he lacked composure and confidence. In spite of his below-par performances for Portugal, Fernando Santos appears to be a big fan of the Barcelona man. Having said that, with the stern competition for a place in Portugal’s midfield, it would be unjust for Gomes to receive a call-up ahead of the likes of Bruno and Manuel Fernandes.
The West Ham loanee’s performances over the two friendlies epitomised his overall form and confidence of late. He lacked creativity, assertiveness and was a shadow of his former self. However, João Mário has featured heavily for Santos during his tenure as Portugal coach, prompting me to assume that his spot is a certainty despite his poor form.
The AC Milan forward registered decent minutes over the two outings, but he failed to produce encouraging performances in either friendly. The only positive aspect to his game was his insistent pressing, which at times caused panic in the opposition’s back-line. Besides this, he created little, and failed to produce any threat in and around the box. Nevertheless, Silva is Portugal’s sole true forward and boasts a phenomenal record for the Seleção, meaning his chances of being included are very high indeed.
As so often is the case with Ronaldo, he proved to be Portugal’s saviour once again with two sublime headers in stoppage time to turn around a one-nil deficit. Against the Dutch, however, he struggled to muster any shooting or scoring opportunities, and even failed to register a single shot during his 68-minute spell on the pitch. Ronaldo’s importance to this team is unquestionable, and his form during the World Cup is key to Portugal’s success.
Surprisingly, Los Che’s electric winger failed to impress in his two cameo appearances this week. He was substituted on at a time when both games lacked cohesion, formation or structure, which undoubtedly makes it difficult to make a mark on the game. That said, his performance for Portugal against Saudi Arabia in November along with his club form should have his name on the list already.
Portugal’s mercurial winger once again proved he is one of the finest impact substitutes the world over, with two sumptuous assists for his friend and fellow compatriot, Ronaldo. However, when given the opportunity to start, Quaresma rarely replicates such form. This was clearly evident against the Dutch, where he struggled to create, and his ageing limbs meant he had difficulties beating his marker. Boasting a player like Quaresma in your ranks is a weapon not many national teams possess and his place in Russia is a certainty.
Despite only appearing off the bench over the two friendlies, Gelson was arguably the brightest of all of Portugal’s players. Sporting’s electric winger terrorised Egypt’s and Holland’s defences with his direct, powerful running. Given he was only a substitute in both games meant that his good work saw no reward, but it was encouraging to see him play with such confidence despite having struggled previously for Portugal. Should his sublime form for Sporting continue, I’ve no doubt that his name is already on the 23-man-squad - in spite of stern competition from Rony Lopes and Bruma.
Manchester City’s majestic playmaker failed to emulate the form he’s shown for his club of late. He only featured against Egypt, and failed to create an awful lot. Bernardo usually relies on support from the right-back, and Cédric’s lack of attacking threat versus the Egyptians perhaps lessened his influence. Regardless of this, it was a poor performance by his extremely high standards. Bar Cristiano, Bernardo Silva is Portugal’s most creative and important player and his form is essential to Portugal’s successes at the World Cup.
Below I have listed all options for the 23-man-squad this summer in three categories. The “certainties” category features those whose places aren’t in question. The “probable” category features those who are almost certain to gain a spot but have a few question marks surrounding their inclusion. Lastly, the “possible” category features those on the periphery of the squad who have performed admirably all season and may well receive surprise call-ups in the event of an injury or a run of poor form.
By Marino Peixoto