Portugal U-20s: What We Learned

Portugal U-20 coach Hélio Sousa, seen here, led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2015 U-20 World Cup.

Portugal U-20 coach Hélio Sousa, seen here, led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2015 U-20 World Cup.

The Portuguese Under-20 team was unfortunate to bow out of the 2015 U-20 World Cup at the hands of Brazil on Sunday. The team’s level of play throughout the tournament was of a high standard, so much so that many touted them as potential victors. Unfortunately, luck was not on their side, as they were narrowly defeated by Brazil on penalties in the quarter-final. Despite this disappointing end, there are many positives to take away from Portugal’s encouraging run.

Portugal was a driven team, not a group of individuals

One of the most striking attributes of this team was their ability to utterly control matches. Throughout the group stage, Senegal, Colombia, and Qatar were easily brushed aside by Portugal. Though there are extremely talented individuals (Marcos Lopes, Gelson Martins, Rafa), no one player was ever seen making selfish plays. Every player contributed to the success of the team: tracking back in defense, constantly moving to find space, not giving up on plays. This grit and determination, coupled with supreme skill, points toward this group of players finding success in the future.

A system that works with a striker and an attacking midfielder

In Hélio Sousa’s formation, Portugal played with both a striker (André Silva) and an attacking midfielder (Marcos Lopes). The Portuguese senior team has not employed a formation such as this in some time, although Fernando Santos has begun using Danny in a shadow-striker role (much the same as Marcos Lopes played in the U-20s). Despite having two attacking-minded players playing close to each other, neither Silva nor Lopes got in the other’s way. Both contributed to the attack and were in promising positions of attack countless times.

Experienced, skilled players

This season, Marcos Lopes made 23 league appearances for Lille in France’s Ligue 1. Ivo Rodrigues contributed 12 goals from the wing for Porto’s B team, before earning a handful of games for Vitória Guimarães later in the season. At 18, Goncalo Guedes made five substitute appearances for Benfica’s first team this season while he was also playing for Benfica’s B team, where he amassed 32 league starts. This team was filled with players who are already impressing at a young age. There’s every possibility that many of these players will be regulars for some of Portugal’s (or even Europe’s) top clubs within a few seasons.

Strength (and depth) in every position

When watching Portugal’s team, it is evident that there are few weak links in the team. Each player is skilled. Mauro Riquicho and Rafa are equally adept at moving forward as they are at one-on-one situations. Both João Nunes and Domingos Duarte are good in the air, as well as intelligent on the ground. Up top, André Silva can score, but he is also capable of creating, as he showed in the Brazil match. The center midfielders are skilled enough to release a pin-point pass, but also aware enough to realize when they need to drop back and help their team. And it’s not just the starters. As Nuno Santos showed throughout the tournament, Portugal’s substitutes were perfectly able and willing to make an impact. Estrela, Raphael Guzzo, and Francisco Ramos all impressed from the bench. With a team with as much depth as Portugal had, there’s no reason not go get excited.

This group showed this month how good they are. Despite their disappointing exit earlier in the tournament perhaps than their play warranted, this group of players is by no means done. They play with a sense of togetherness and cohesion that hasn’t been seen by Portugal for some time. That alone is very encouraging. With the obvious step up the U-21s next, expect to see more domination and development from these players, as they look to challenge for silverware in the future

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