In the latest round of international duty call-ups, Fernando Santos was obligated to make some surprising adjustments to the Seleção squad that competed in the Confederations Cup over the summer. The absence of key players has extended a rare opportunity to several familiar faces ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Faroe Islands and Hungary.
Meanwhile, Rui Jorge once again completed the unenviable task of choosing the right combination of young prodigies to face Wales in the opening match of U21 Euro 2019 qualification.
Although injuries and a suspension to Nélson Semedo made it no surprise that there would be changes, the sight of Nélson Oliveira's name on the squad sheet surely must have caught some Portugal fans off-guard. With Euro 2016 hero Eder yet to feature for Lokomotiv Moscow (on loan from Lille) and Nani out for Valencia with nagging injuries, the Norwich City forward will back-up strike duo Cristiano Ronaldo and André Silva. To his credit, Nelson has already scored three goals in four matches in the English Championship this season.
The usual cast of characters in midfield were once again selected although several quandaries still exist concerning their merit. It is unlikely that the decision to include André Gomes over Bruno Fernandes will have won many supporters especially since the early phases of the 22 year old playmaker's tenure at Sporting have been marked with such explosive displays.
There had also been rumblings from the East regarding the credentials of the long-since forgotten Manuel Fernandes, who is in a class of his own in the Russian Premier Liga. From his central midfield role, Fernandes has already accumulated three goals and three assists in only eight matches so far this term. His talent notwithstanding, the 31 year old once again missed out and has only ever featured nine times for Portugal.
Otherwise, the return of João Mário will be welcomed although his utilization at Inter Milan has yet to reflect his on-pitch contributions. The former Sporting playmaker only featured for 26 minutes of the 3-0 victory over Fiorentina last Sunday and marked his impressive cameo with an assist for Ivan Perisic's late goal.
Finally, Portugal's need to replace its centrebacks will have to wait. Several key moves involving CBs were completed this summer including Ruben Semedo to Villareal and Edgar Ie to Lille, but Santos clearly felt the time was not right to draft replacements for Pepe and José Fonte. Even Luis Neto was omitted possibly because he has not featured as prominently for Zenit compared to season's past. Meanwhile, Fabio Coentrão will attempt to regain his long-lost position at left back in the absence of the injured Raphael Guerreiro.
In press conferences, Santos confidently stated that Portugal would win out and settle the matter with Switzerland in the climactic Group B encounter against the current group leaders at the Estádio da Luz on 10 October.
U21 side set to begin qualifying
After this summer's disappointing U21 Euro campaign, Rui Jorge has once again selected Euro 2016 champion Renato Sanches in his squad for the opening match of U21 Euro 2019 qualification against Wales. The Bayern Munich midfielder's future with the German champions remains undecided as rumors abound that he will be loaned out or possibly sold to Liverpool or a number of other potential suitors. Likewise, the 20 year old's opportunity in this squad will surely come under attack from several talented playmakers including 19 year old Xadas, André Horta, who is looking for the right move out of the Portuguese capitol, and Fiorentina's Gil Dias.
Much will be asked of Wolverhampton signing Rúben Neves as he will anchor a forward thinking midfield from his traditional deep-lying role. Having just moved to the English Championship over the summer in a shocking and hotly disputed transfer from FC Porto, the youngster has not failed to impress as his side have made a decent start to their season under manager Nuno Espírito Santo.
Paris St. Germain's Gonçalo Guedes will be expected to lead the line while several other players will be making their debuts including Benfica's centreback, Ruben Dias, and Vitória SC forward Xande Silva, both promoted from the U20 squad. Rui Jorge's U21s will be hoping to find better solutions in defence while taking full advantage of their strengths in attacking midfield.
Portugal senior squad for World Cup Qualifiers against Faroe Islands and Hungary
Goalkeepers: Beto (Göztepe), Bruno Varela (Benfica), Rui Patrício (Sporting)
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cédric (Southampton), Eliseu (Benfica), José Fonte (West Ham), João Cancelo (Inter Milan), Pepe (Besiktas), Fabio Coentrão (Sporting)
Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Sporting), André Gomes (Barcelona), Danilo Pereira (FC Porto), João Mário (Inter Milan), João Moutinho (Monaco), Pizzi (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting)
Forwards: André Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting), Nélson Oliveira (Norwich City), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas), Bruma (RB Leipzig)
Portugal U21 squad for Euro 2019 Qualifier against Wales
Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa (FC Porto), Joel Pereira (Manchester United), Pedro Silva (Sporting)
Defenders: Fernando Fonseca (Estoril Praia), Ivanildo Fernandes (Sporting), Jorge Fernandes (FC Porto), Diogo Dalot (FC Porto), Ruben Dias (SL Benfica), Francisco Ferreira (Benfica), Luís Mata (FC Porto), Yuri Ribeiro (Rio Ave).
Midfielders: Rúben Neves (Wolverhampton), André Horta (Benfica), Xadas (Braga), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich); João Carvalho (Benfica), João Gamboa (Marítimo), Pedro Delgado (Sporting), Rafael Barbosa (Sporting), Gil Dias (Fiorentina).
Forwards: Alexandre Silva (Vitória SC), Diogo Gonçalves (Benfica), Gonçalo Guedes (Paris Saint Germain).
by Nathan Motz