Portugal’s World Cup adventure came to a premature end last night after a narrow 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last 16. The exit is an obvious disappointment for Seleção fans everywhere, but just as frustrating was the team’s failure to fulfil their potential to perform with what looked a strong group of players coming into the tournament.
One such player who did not live up to expectations in Russia was Bernardo Silva, failing to settle into Fernando Santos’ system throughout the group stage. However, the Manchester City winger was Portugal’s standout performer in Sochi, showing renewed confidence and positivity on the ball even if it was ultimately not enough to help his team through to the quarter-finals.
Bernardo’s supreme technical abilities have been on display for a number of years now, and he arrived at the tournament in good form even if perhaps he did not quite get as much gametime as he would have liked in the Premier League last season. Translating his club form to the national side had proved tricky with his previous club Monaco too, the 23-year-old never really seeming able to gel with the manager’s more rigid tactical setups. Although generally strongest on the right flank, as he has been selected in Russia, many fans have been suggesting a move more centrally in order to get the best out of him.
While Bernardo did indeed start again on the right hand side of a 4-4-2 formation, it was when he did begin to drift to more central areas that he caused Uruguay problems in a vastly improved individual performance. His play was direct and incisive, linking well at times with newly instated right back Ricardo Pereira. Bernardo’s excellent close control and dribbling was evident throughout, and was put to use wisely and in a timely manner as many attacks were borne out his creative thinking.
One particularly notable feature of his showing was his reverse passing, creating a few opportunities for Ricardo on the overlap, as well as for opposite full back Raphaël Guerreiro when Bernardo drifted towards the left touchline. Ultimately these chances largely led to nothing though on a dispiriting night for Portugal. Two Edinson Cavani goals either side of a Pepe equaliser effected their demise in a tournament that promised much. Bernardo himself arguably had the best chance of the game aside from Pepe’s headed goal, just not able to maintain his balance and keep his shot low enough after Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had spilled a routine ball into the box.
So soon after the event it is difficult to see too many positives for Portuguese fans but there is a very talented young group of players for Fernando Santos to work with in the coming years, which will of course include a defence of their European Championship in 2020. Bernardo is still only 23 years of age and has plenty of room to develop, particularly playing at the highest level under a visionary club coach in Pep Guardiola. A chastening defeat on the night, but Bernardo’s performance is a positive beacon for the Seleção’s future.
by Jamie Farr