The Emergence of Portugal's Golden Generation
After a dismal display in the 2014 FIFA World cup held in Brazil, Portugal had lost its hope of winning something big on the international stage. But things changed drastically since they appointed Fernando Santos as their head coach after the debacle.
Portugal's former coach Paulo Bento was sacked for his defensive approach and lack of creativity. He had just built a team around one man, Cristiano Ronaldo. Fernando Santos, on the other hand was brought a different approach, he changed the perspective of the team as he handed responsibilities to each and every player on the pitch.
The first test for Fernando Santos came in the Euro 2016 where he led a team which mostly comprised of veterans and inexperienced players. Portugal struggled in the group stage where they were held to three draws and won three points overall. As UEFA had extended the number of tournament participants from 16 to 24, Portugal qualified as one of the best third placed teams in the group stage.
The real shock came when they beat Croatia, one of the tournament favorites. They also eased past Poland and Wales in the quarter and semi finals respectively. Finally they broke the hearts of the French as they beat the host nation on their own soil.
The biggest surprise of all was that they won the final in the absence of their captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. The tournament gave rise to young Portuguese starlets namely Renato Sanches, Andre Gomes and Raphael Guerreiro.
They continued their good run on the international stage as they finished third in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Despite winning the European Championship, Portugal failed to live up to the expectations in the 2018 FIFA World cup held in Russia as they were defeated by Uruguay in the Round of 16.
After the world cup, Cristiano Ronaldo was not called up for any International friendlies as Fernando Santos made up his mind to resurrect the team. His approach was very sharp as he depended on young prodigies and talents who could turn Portugal into a world beater.
The real test came in the Nations League as they had to face the best teams in Europe. A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo took Portugal into the final. They made the whole footballing world turn their head again as they defeated Holland who were regarded as favorites to win the tournament.
The nations league proved to be a great significance as it gave birth to many Portuguese stars namely Goncalos Guedes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Nelson Semedo, Joao Cancelo, William Carvalho, Danilo Pereira and Ruben Dias. These players have been playing at the highest levels for their clubs and that has been a major reason why Portugal have started to thrive.
Now the team is set to be more focussed and dynamic as there is room for more creativity. Recent results in the UEFA European Qualifiers, including the 5-1 thrashing of Lithuania have made Portugal a force to be reckoned with.
It's been quite a difficult journey for a small nation like Portugal to achieve glory in Football. But,Still there is a missing piece in the puzzle. Will Fernando Santos and Cristiano Ronaldo guide their nation to a World cup Victory? With the help of this golden generation of up and coming footballers, Portugal is well placed to go all the way and become World Champions.