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Nations League: Why Portugal are so much more than Cristiano Ronaldo


Ronaldo is his country’s record goalscorer and most capped player with 85 goals in 156 games
Nations League semi-finals: Portugal v Switzerland
Date: 5 June Time: 19:45 BST Venue: Estadio do Dragao, Porto
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

Home advantage, one of Europe’s hottest prospects in Joao Felix and “10 years of emerging talent” – things are looking good for Portugal’s Nations League bid.

The reigning European champions get the inaugural tournament finals under way on Wednesday against Switzerland at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao, before the Netherlands face England in Guimaraes in the other semi-final on Thursday.

BBC Sport spoke to former Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal and ex-Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte about their country’s “healthy” selection headache, the emergence of Felix and why the team are so much more than Cristiano Ronaldo.

‘Talent for the next 10 years’

Ronaldo was part of the Portugal side that lost the Euro 2004 final to Greece

Portugal, without Ronaldo in their team, qualified for the finals by topping a group that contained Italy and Poland.

The 34-year-old Juventus forward missed six internationals after Portugal were knocked out in the World Cup last 16, before returning for the start of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in March.

This will be the first time Portugal have hosted a senior tournament since a side containing a 19-year-old Ronaldo lost to Greece in the Euro 2004 final.

They won their first ever major trophy at Euro 2016 but manager Fernando Santos has retained just nine players from that team including veterans Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo, who have all played over 100 games for their country.

Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Joao Mario were among those dropped by Santos, who has picked a mixture of youth and experience for their Nations League title bid with three uncapped players.

Two of those are Benfica’s 19-year-old forward Felix and Wolves’ 22-year-old forward Diogo Jota.

Other highly rated 22-year-olds are Benfica centre-back Ruben Dias and Valencia forward Goncalo Guedes, while Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes and fellow midfielder Bernardo Silva of Manchester City – who Carvalhal says is “one of the best players in the world at this moment” – are only 24.

“We know that one day Ronaldo will finish, but we have so much talent in this moment with a new generation of Portuguese players,” says ex-Sheffield Wednesday boss Carvalhal. “Around Ronaldo will be more talent than in the past, players to support him. Individual-wise Portugal is better in this moment.

“We know Silva is the player that can follow Ronaldo and be the next big star of the team. In the next few years will appear Felix, who is a very talented player.

“The ego of the new generation is not so big as in the past, they have a different mentality.”

He added: “We had a problem two years ago where we had a good goalkeeper, full-backs, midfielders and attackers, but we didn’t have a centre-back. Then this season we had Dias and Ferro [who was not called up] – two centre-backs for the future.

“These kind of things make us believe we have a very good national team for the next 10 years. We are probably feeling the same way as England fans with their young squad and the Netherlands is the same.

“For a very small country of about 10 million, we have a lot of talent in football.”

Portugal’s Nations League squad
Goalkeepers: Beto, Rui Patricio, Jose Sa
Defenders: Raphael Guerreiro, Mario Rui, Nelson Semedo, Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Pepe, Jose Fonte
Midfielders: Bruno Fernandes, Danilo Pereira, William Carvalho, Pizzi, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho
Forwards: Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, Dyego Sousa, Joao Felix, Goncalo Guedes, Rafa Silva

‘Special Felix & the importance of Ronaldo’

Felix has a 120m euros (£106m) release clause at Benfica

How Santos selects a starting XI and finds the right balance for his side will be one of the biggest question marks over this team.

Boa Morte, who won 28 caps, says: “We hope the manager keeps having these healthy headaches, which means we have a lot of talent coming through.

“We expect an attacking line-up as we are playing at home and have the players to play attacking football.”

Carvalhal, appointed as Rio Ave boss last week, says the challenge for Santos will be “to connect all these pieces with different characteristics, players from the past with these new stars and players playing in different parts of the world”.

The other question is whether Santos will “take the risk” and start Ronaldo and Felix together for the first time.

Ronaldo finished the season with 28 goals, his lowest tally for 10 years, but Boa Morte insists he is “still the main man”.

Felix, who made his senior debut in August for Benfica, scored 20 goals and registered 11 assists in all competitions last season. He has been linked with a move to the Premier League and has a 120m euros release clause.

He described his first training session with five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo as “like being in career mode on PlayStation – he looked like a video game character”.

Carvalhal continued: “Felix is the emerging star in Portuguese football. Why is he so special? He’s a mix between a nine and a 10, he plays like a second striker.

“We always want to play with Ronaldo. It is not just about the goals he scores, but the confidence and motivation he gives to the team and fans. We want to feel him on the pitch.”

He added: “I believe they can play together but they do not yet have a connection, so let’s see if they are compatible. Sometimes these kind of things need time to integrate in training.”

Carvalhal says Ronaldo is often allowed a free role for Portugal, playing behind a “reference” in attack, a role filled recently by Sevilla striker Andre Silva, who is out injured.

But Felix could play in the number 10 role, a position he has shone at for Benfica, in support of Ronaldo.

“If he plays with Felix it will be different,” says Carvalhal. “We could see them both play up front or Ronaldo could play as a fixed attacker with Felix behind him.

“I believe more that Santos will prefer to play a reference in attack and Ronaldo behind.”

Portugal are slight favourites and “expectations are really high” says Carvalhal.

“We won Euro 2016, we are playing at home and the support will be massive. We have a generation of players with lots of talent,” he added.



Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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