Portugal’s World Cup campaign was a disappointing one. A Round of 16 exit to Uruguay brought a premature end to a tournament in which they won just once, against Morocco, and the only real highlight of their tournament was Cristiano Ronaldo‘s stunning hat-trick, topped off with a dramatic late free-kick, in a 3-3 draw with Spain.
But what their early exit masked the excellent run of form that Portugal’s surprise Euro 2016 triumph kicked off. Since the beginning of World Cup qualifiers later that year, they’ve lost just three times in 25 games, not counting a defeat to Chile on penalties in last year’s Confederations Cup.
And while Ronaldo remains the biggest star, their latest run of fixtures has also given them enough confidence that life after talisman’s career ends will still be good.
There’s a young core of highly talented players ready to lead the next generation. Bernardo Silva has found a new gear at Manchester City this season, and after a disappointing World Cup he has a point to prove for his country. Juventus man Joao Cancelo has developed into one of the world’s best right-backs, Ruben Neves has made the step up from Championship to Premier League with aplomb for newly-promoted Wolves, and Renato Sanches looks back to his best at Bayern Munich after putting a dismal season on loan to Swansea City behind him.
Up front, they have a 22-year-old striker who’s already in the country’s top 15 all-time goalscorers.
29 caps. 14 goals.— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) October 11, 2018
That ratio isn’t half bad.
André Silva (22) is now joint-thirteenth on the all-time Portuguese national team top goalscorers list. pic.twitter.com/350u1JJk0Y
Andre Silva may have not lit the world alight at AC Milan last season after joining from Porto, but a move to Sevilla has seen the striker rediscover his best for both club and country. The youngster’s seven goals in eight games has propelled his side to the top of the table in La Liga, while he’s been in superb form for his nation, scoring seven times in Portugal’s last six competitive away matches.
His international record at the moment stands at a goal just about every other game, which makes Fernando Santos’ decision to start him only once at the World Cup all the more baffling. Pairing Ronaldo with Goncalo Guedes was a good idea in theory, with the winger’s pace making him a good foil for the Juventus star, but it didn’t work.
Silva’s current form should render the argument moot in any case, as his scoring run makes him undroppable for now. It’s all the more impressive because the former Porto striker is hitting these heights as his country’s main striker.
Ronaldo hasn’t played for Portugal since the World Cup, as he skipped last month’s friendlies in order to prioritise hitting top form for Juventus after his summer move, and was left out of the squad for the latest round of international fixtures after an agreement with the Portuguese FA amid controversy surrounding recently-unearthed rape allegations.
His future availability is still up in the air, but meanwhile, Silva is thriving as the lead man.
He’s a prototypical modern striker, strong in the air, capable of putting attacks together with his link-up play and ending them with traditional goal-poachers’ instincts. When on song, he’s a ruthless finisher.
More importantly, Silva has a knack for scoring just when his team needs it. He found an equaliser for Portugal last week after they’d fallen behind early to Poland in an eventual 3-2 win, bagged the only goal in a 1-0 win over Italy last month, scored twice for Sevilla in their stunning upset of Real Madrid this season, and though he gave Milan fans little to cheer during his spell in Italy, his first Serie A goal was a priceless last-gasp header against Genoa last season that kept the team in the hunt for a top-six finish.
There’s no telling whether Portugal need to be thinking about life after Ronaldo already, but thanks to Silva and the rest of the young brigade, they don’t have much to worry about.
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