On Tuesday, Portugal manager Fernando Santos announced his initial squad for 2022 World Cup qualifiers, revealing the 25-man roster who will be tasked to get the Seleção off to a flying start with opening matches against Azerbaijan (March 24), Serbia (March 27), and Luxembourg (March 30).
There were a number of returns and omissions, debuts and surprises, so let’s review the roster:
These selections have been the status quo ever since Lopes’ return to the senior team back in August. The surprise here, in my opinion, is the inclusion of Rui Patrício; not due to form, but after being knocked out of the Wolves-Liverpool match Monday (March 15) with a head injury and being stretchered off the field. Perhaps it’s a good sign that the injury may not serious (Santos indicated as much in his press conference), but a surprise selection for me nonetheless.
No surprises here. Pepe is back in the fold after missing the last call-ups of 2020 due to injury. He’ll assume his starting spot next to Rúben Dias, with solid coverage behind them in Fonte and Duarte.
The first debut and a surprise return. Nuno Mendes, the 18-year-old Sporting left back who has been on every big club’s radar in Europe for the past 12 months, gets his much anticipated debut call up after not being selected by Rui Jorge for U-21 duty the day before. I would love to see the young man get thrown in at some point in these qualifiers just to get his feet wet; hopefully not in a dire situation. Ideally, Mendes could be the answer to get Guerreiro to play in more of the wing role he’s accustomed to while playing for Dortmund.
As for the surprise, Cédric returns to the senior squad for the first time since being called up in November 2018. Fernando Santos goes back to his starting right back from the EURO 2016 championship, leaving Nelson Semedo and Ricardo Pereira out.
However, what should not come as a surprise is João Cancelo being the starting right back for this squad.
First off, it’s hard to see a midfield group with William Carvalho not being a part of it, but injuries have been an issue for the “Velvet Tank” since his move to Betis in 2018. Fernando Santos has shown to be loyal with some of his past selections, but with the depth at the position I think he made the right choice in leaving William out this time.
Let’s not get too hung up on Bernardo Silva being listed as a “midfielder” on the squad list; if/when he starts/plays I would expect him to play on the wing and tuck back into the middle when needed.
Could we see a starting midfield that includes Sergio Oliveria and Palhinha? Based on current form, it would be hard to argue against it. Palhinha’s play for league leaders Sporting made his selection not only a deserved one, but also made Fernando Santos' decision to leave William out an easier one.
Welcome back, André Silva! The Bundesliga’s joint-2nd leading scorer is continuing his career resurgence (he’s only 25, Danny!) since football’s return from the pandemic last spring and finalizing his permanent transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Diogo Jota gets the call after recently returning to Liverpool following an almost three-month absence from the club due to a knee injury.
Youth continues to be served with the selections of João Félix and Pedro Neto. I feel that the youth movement could have continued with Trincão instead of Rafa Silva, but U-21 manager Rui Jorge called up Trincão (as well Rafael Leão and Pedro Gonçalves), leaving Rafa Silva with perhaps another opportunity to contribute off the Portugal bench.
But it starts and ends with Cristiano Ronaldo. After a substandard performance in the Champions League Round of 16 against Porto for Juventus, the Seleção captain scored a hat trick on the weekend against Cagliari, reaching the record 770 goal mark for club and country. There’s plenty of firepower left in Cristiano Ronaldo, and with the 110 international goal mark in his sights (he currently sits on 102 goals), you could possibly see one of the most determined CR7’s we’ve seen in a long time.
Overall, Fernando Santos has selected another strong squad as Portugal begins their “Road to Qatar”.