The Selecao surprisingly lifted the continental crown in France two years ago, but many of their star names have struggled since after big-money moves
Portugal may have won the European Championship just two years ago, but their squad for this summer’s World Cup has a very different look about it.
Coach Fernando Santos has left out 10 players from the 23 who claimed the continental crown in France two summers back, with many high-profile names absent from the list for Russia 2018.
There are a number of reasons for the changes. Defender Ricardo Carvalho is now 40 and retired from international duty after the Euros, while striker Eder has struggled at Lille and Lokomotiv Moscow in the past two seasons, hitting just 11 goals since his memorable extra-time winner at the Stade de France.
Others, however, have not kicked on as expected or have regressed since making big-money moves on the back of Portugal’s victory over Didier Deschamps’ France side.
Renato Sanches was considered one of the brightest talents around and the 18-year-old’s high-energy performances were a feature for Santos’ side in the team’s march to the trophy in France. However, he has missed out on a place in the squad this time, along with Andre Gomes and Nani.
“It was extremely difficult to choose the 23,” Santos said at a press conference when he announced his final squad. “As a professional, I have to make decisions and I know that I’m not going to please everyone.
“It was, of course, difficult to leave out Eder, Nani and others who wrote the most brilliant page in the history of Portuguese football. But I have to pick the ones who best complete the jigsaw.”
Nani is one of Portugal’s most-capped players with over 100 appearances since his international debut in 2006. The winger joined Valencia after the Euros amid much fanfare in an €8.5 million move from Fenerbahce, but was sent on loan to Lazio after a disappointing season at Mestalla and only featured 25 times for the Serie A side in all competitions last term. He was well down the pecking order in the Italian capital and won’t remain.
That same summer, Andre Gomes left Valencia for Barcelona in a €35m deal with a possible €20m in variables on top of that. The midfielder has had a torrid time at Camp Nou since that transfer, though, with Barca’s poorest performances coming when he has been on the pitch and the player admitting he has suffered from depression since making the move to the Catalan club.
Renato Sanches is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, however. The midfielder left Benfica for Bayern Munich in a transfer costing an initial €35m plus a possible €45m in add-ons. Most of those are unlikely to be paid, though, as he played just 25 games in all competitions in his first season and then joined Swansea in another doomed deal, featuring just 16 times as the Welsh side suffered relegation from the Premier League.
Another player to move after Euro 2016 was Joao Mario, the midfielder joining Inter from Sporting CP in a €40m transfer, plus €5m in variables. Like Nani and Sanches, he too was sent out on loan last term after failing to impress in his debut campaign, spending the second half of last season at West Ham.
Joao Mario is in the squad for the World Cup and he is a player who often performs better for his national team than he does at club level, which perhaps explains his inclusion. At the very least, he also worked hard to stay in Santos’ thoughts in the second half of last season.
Meanwhile, Sanches, Nani, Eder and Andre Gomes did little to merit a place in the 23-man squad for Russia and Santos has turned to a new generation of talents in Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Gelson Martins, Andre Silva and Goncalo Guedes.
Winger Silva (24) has impressed at Monaco and now Manchester City in back-to-back title-winning seasons after missing out on Euro 2016 through injury and looks set to be a starter for Portugal in their World Cup opener against Spain on Friday.
Sporting’s attacking midfielder Fernandes (23), who was on target in a 3-0 friendly win over Algeria last week, is another exciting youngster who could be a starter in Russia, with his explosive club colleague, winger Gelson Martins (also 23), looking to make an impact from the bench.
Striker Andre Silva is another who may have to wait patiently for a chance. The former Porto striker (22) endured a difficult debut season at AC Milan in 2017-18, but has 12 goals in 23 appearances for Portugal already and is admired by Santos.
Alongside captain Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Guedes looks likely to feature in attack. The winger (21) spent last season on loan at Valencia from Paris Saint-Germain and was one of the features of the side’s impressive campaign under Marcelino as he racked up 11 assists and five goals. He also scored twice against Algeria last week.
So despite the decline of some stars from their triumphant European Championship campaign in France two years ago, Portugal’s list of 23 is still brimming with talent for the World Cup in Russia, although there may be doubts in defence after Carvalho’s retirement and the continued reliance upon a 35-year-old Pepe.
“I can’t say whether this squad is stronger than the one which played at the Euros,” Santos said recently. “But I have absolute confidence in this squad just as I did in the other one.”
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On Friday, against Spain in Sochi, the new players will aim to make light of some high-profile absences as this team looks to write a new chapter after success in France two years ago. And in midfield and attack at least, their squad seems stronger now than it did back then.