Portugal World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
World Cup 2018 World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network Portugal World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions
European Champions have a favourable draw and excellent attacking options but an ageing defence could let them down
This article is part of the Guardianâs 2018 World Cup Expertsâ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qu alified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.Bernardo Silva: from Benfica reject to Portugal's heir to Ronaldo Read more
Portugal will play this yearâs World Cup as European champions, so any dark horse tag has disappeared, but this also means the inferiority complex that has often conditioned the team has been overthrown. The head coach, Fernando Santos, refuses to speak of his team as favourites for the tournament, although he does suggest the ambition is the same as at Euro 2016.
Two years on from their triumph in France, Portugal have problems in defence: the centre-backs who featured then do not offer the same guarantees and it has been difficult to find alternatives. Out of the options available to Santos at EUro 2016, only Pepe is a guaranteed starter.
JosÃ© Fonte had a terrible time at West Ham and now plays in China and Ricardo Carvalho has retired from international football while Bruno Alves has struggled at Rangers. Santos admitted recently that he was willing to experiment with uncapped players, something he had discarded only a few months earlier, including a call-up for Benficaâs RÃºben Dias in March, but that was foiled by injury.
Dias, in the end, made his debut against Tunisia at the end of May while, also in that game, Leicester Cityâs new signing Ricardo Pareira, was handed his first start at full-back. There were still problems defensively, however, and especially after Pepe had been substituted (which was pre-planned and not injury-related) and the game ended 2-2.
In better news, Portugal seem to have more attacking options and Ãder, the hero of 2016, is unlikely to play in Russia. âI understand that emotional part but we donât have to pay him anything,â Santos said after qualification for Russia was confirmed. âI paid him the way I felt I should pay: I called h im and explained why I havenât been picking him.â Ãder was not in Santosâ final 23 but could still be called up if there are injuries.
Players such as Bernardo Silva, AndrÃ© Silva and Gelson Martins give more flair in attack, although Santos has not abandoned the structure that led the team to the European title.
The 2016 campaign received some criticism regarding the style of play, despite the historic achievement, but Santos continues to brush off such concerns: âWeâre here to win. And we play with our weapons. Thatâs what I want. I canât understand the idea of a team that loses but delivers a great game. It makes me confused.â
Santos is expected to stay faithful to a 4-4-2 (with 4-3-3 as the plan B), with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line alongside AndrÃ© Silva, and the focus on an organised defence with swift counterattacks.
Probable starting XI
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Bruno Fernandes. He was Portugalâs Under-21 captain and had impressed in Serie A, with Udinese and Sampdoria, before exceeding all expectations at Sporting in 2017-18. He may not start the tournament but will fight for a place, either in the middle or on the wing.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
Fernando Santos will have a hard time choosing Pepeâs partner in central defence. Bruno Alves seemed to have won that place in qualifying but had a difficult season with Rangers and played only six league games in 2018. At 36 he is hardly in ide al physical condition either.
What is the realistic aim for Portugal at the World Cup and why?
Although Portugal are European champions, the bar for the World Cup has to be at the usual height: pass the group stage and then think game by game. There are plenty of candidates who have a better chance but Portugal should beat Iran and Morocco to qualify with Spain from Group B, and with Group A opponents (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay) to choose from in the round of 16 it is realistic for Portugal to aim for the quarter-finals.
Nuno Travassos writes for Maisfutebol.
Follow him on Twitter here.
Click here for a profile of Portugalâs Bernardo Silva.Topics
- World Cup 2018
- World Cup 2018: Guardian Experts' Network
- World Cup
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