The Rise of Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Santos Crucial
The Team and It’s Key Players
Portugal has always been more than the relevant country in the world of football. Eusebio leading the fantastic Benfica side of his era, Figo being named player of the year and Jose Mourinho remaining one of the best managers to ever operate in the game. Many legends have come and gone but this team is special and everybody is taking notice of it.
The Portugal side can not be discussed without discussing their talisman- Cristiano Ronaldo. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is at the heart of this squad. He leads his country in appearances, goals and assists. He’s currently the highest active international goalscorer and arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen. His mere presence in the side brings the best out of his compatriots. Ronaldo leads from the front and acts as the perfect role model for fellow forwards- Gonzalo Guedes, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, etc. His on-field impact has not deteriorated despite his age. His quiet yet effective performance against Serbia on Saturday is now becoming a trademark of the great man’s international output. But the team is immensely talented beyond Ronaldo as well.
Other Key Players
The aforementioned Silva is one of the best players in the world right now. His creativity gives the side an edge in the final third. Jose Fonte and Pepe represent the old guard whereas Ruben Dias is emerging as one of the most promising defenders across Europe. In midfield, Joao Moutinho still shows touches of class in his appearances. Ruben Neves is a solid presence in midfield along with his set-piece expertise. Danilo Pereira and William Carvalho are two rocks in the middle of the park, unsettling teams with their physicality. To compliment that, they have Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix who are more technically capable of breaking down a lower block. Adding to that -the likes of Diogo Jota, Raphael Guerreiro, Pizzi and Joao Cancelo.
Santos the Master Tactician
Fernando Santos is arguably the most underrated tactician in international football. Ronald Koeman, Roberto Martinez and Roberto Mancini are highly talked about but have failed to deliver till now. Santos is an experienced head that demands respect from his players. His team mirrors his attitude, something all good managers seem to have in common. His tactical acumen is next to none.
Setting up his team in multiple formations (ranging from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3), their defensive shape is uncompromisable in Santos’ mind. He usually deploys two holding midfielders to protect the back four who themselves remain very narrow. These six players all squeeze a side down in their own half to win the ball back and counter. This suits their pace oriented forwards to maximise their abilities.
Santos is now entering his fifth year into managing the national side. Within this period, Portugal has won the Euros in 2016, finished 3rd in the confederations cup the following year and won the inaugural UEFA Nations League this summer. A nation once labelled chokers are now contenders for every tournament they enter. Santos’ philosophy is central to this success and he will be his usual, gritty self to continue the rise of Portugal to the top of world football.