Today at 12:30, Fernando Santos announced his Portugal squad for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Ukraine and Serbia.
Firstly, João Felix. His name was on the tip of everybody’s tongue before the announcement of the latest squad, “would he make it or wouldn’t he?” As it turns out, he has made it and rightfully so. The 19-year-old Seixal product has had the year of his life so far, scoring 9 and assisting 5 in 17 Liga NOS matches. The wonderkid is most natural in a second striker/number 10 role, but is also comfortable playing as a number 9, particularly in a 2 up front. He has spearheaded Benfica’s revival, especially under Bruno Lage. His goals and assists contribution has meant that Benfica have clawed back the top position from Porto in the Liga, after looking completely dead and buried just a few months ago. This call up is nothing short of deserved and will undoubtedly be the first of many.
Dyego Sousa’s inclusion is one that came as a pleasant surprise to many. At 29 years of age, he is certainly not one for the future, however it is hard to ignore somebody who is in this type of form. Sousa has 14 goals and 5 assists in 25 Liga matches for SC Braga, an incredible return for a player plying his trade for a club outside of The Big Three. His inclusion was most surprising, not because of his age but due to the fact that he is Brazilian by birth and has never featured for Portugal (including youth squads). However, his national eligibility coupled with his recent form gives Santos another option, presumably off the bench.
Diogo Jota also makes the squad for the first time, the former FC Porto winger/attacking midfielder has deservedly earned his call up due to his fantastic form this season for Wolves. Jota, who has represented Portugal at all levels bar senior, has became a firm fan favourite in the West Midlands with his trickery and technical quality. Competing in the Premier League, which many would argue is the best and toughest league in the world, has not fazed Jota, who has an impressive return of 6 goals and 4 assists in 25 league games. At just 22, he is just one of the current crop of excellent young talent who we hope will be around for many years to come!
What does this squad tell us about the future?
This squad announcement indicates a shift in generation for the Seleçao going forward. in the past couple of years, Portugal have entered tournaments with generally old squads but mixing in a dash of youth to compliment the experienced and aged squad members. However, the promising youth of Portugal which had been quietly making headlines for the past few years are starting to come of age.
Rúben Neves – 22 Diogo Jota – 22 João Felix – 19 Rúben Dias – 21 Bruno Fernandes – 24 Gonçalo Guedes – 22 Bernardo Silva – 24
It is an exciting time for the Seleçao and the biggest test for Santos is being able to maintain an effective blend between youth and experience in order to produce the best possible results. Players like Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes are even more vital because they have within them a blend of both of these things, Bernardo in particular. Silva is producing man of the match displays each week for Manchester City, stepping in to replace the injured Kevin De Bruyne allowed him to fully flourish and express himself as a central midfielder, as opposed to being stuck out on the wing. He is learning and developing yet still has the experience of playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe, competing on all 4 fronts. Bruno Fernandes is another player under 25 who is seemingly moving towards his peak, his performances this season for Sporting have been nothing short of magnificent, even better considering the dire state the Lisbon club find themselves in. He has had to mature quicker as a result of this, taking the captaincy and pulling his side away from mediocrity and towards the top of the table, where they belong.
This bulk of Under-25 talent is complimented by the experience and class of Seleçao everpresents such as Cristiano, João Moutinho, Pepe and Patrício.
The future is certainly bright for the Seleçao, and with the u19 European championship winning side, featuring stars such as Florentino Luis, Trincão and João Filipe (Jota) developing and gaining another year of experience, they will soon be ready to also make the step up to the senior side.
I for one, am certainly looking forward to seeing how this Portugal squad do in the next couple of qualifiers!
Credit to: Portugal on Twitter for the image.