Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva

The silk and steel that could lead Portugal to Euro 2020 glory

‘A one man team’ was a common accusation unfairly levelled at Portugal for almost an entire decade.

Despite boasting five-time Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, questions were often raised about whether A Selecao had the collective quality to do the business at a major tournament.

Chances of glory came and went, with two semi-finals and one quarter-final berth in the eight years that followed a heartbreaking final defeat to Greece as hosts of Euro 2004.

But the breakthrough finally came with an inaugural major tournament win at Euro 2016, Eder’s extra time strike bringing a relatively drab showpiece to life with the game’s only goal against France.

In the five years that have followed, a new generation of talent has emerged to complement Portugal’s steely mentality.

At the forefront of that renaissance are a trio of City stars who each epitomise the technical flair and relentless industry needed to reach the pinnacle of international football.

While Joao Cancelo’s tournament has been cruelly cut short by a positive COVID-19 result, his teammates Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva will be key to their nation’s Euro 2020 prospects.

Indeed, the City duo’s potent blend of silk and steel goes a long way towards the derogatory ‘one man team’ tag well and truly becoming a thing of the past.

"With the guile of Pepe and the understanding of Ricardo Carvalho, Ruben Dias is vital to this current Portuguese crop’s prospects of matching the achievements of their predecessors."

When considering that Ruben Dias only turned 24 in May, his levels of professionalism, and the elite mentality that he exudes are truly incredible.

Dias is a leader; something that both belies his relatively tender years but has also been proven week in, week out at City since a September 2020 switch from Benfica.

Like some of his predecessors at an international level, the defender possesses a genuine commitment to the cause in a similar vein to a Bruno Alves or Pepe, willing to put his body on the line at any given moment to thwart an opponent’s opportunity.

An ample demonstration of this can be found in the centre-half’s 23 successful blocks and 49 aerial clearances across his debut Premier League season; the highest return of any City player.

Dias immediately cemented himself as an instant fan favourite thanks to his seemingly genuine joy for defending, with a last-ditch challenge often celebrated like a goal at the sharp end of the pitch.

But while that quality is an essential weapon in any elite defender’s arsenal, the 24-year-old’s skillset is far more intricate.

The centre-half is as proactive as he is reactive, with an excellent positional sense and reading of the game to spot dangerous patterns of play before they can fully develop.

It was a quality which best described the playing style of Dias’ fellow countryman, Ricardo Carvalho, who acted as a perfect foil to his defensive partners across a hugely successful 20-year career.

Our defender’s debut came two years after Carvalho’s international swansong, but elements of Dias’ game hearken back to the former Chelsea man’s heyday.

His 35 interceptions across the 2020/21 campaign, surpassed only by Rodrigo and Joao Cancelo at City, pay tribute to this quality, which often takes on an added significance at the very highest level when a split second decision can define a match.

With the guile and determination of Pepe or Bruno Alves, coupled with the understanding of Carvalho, Ruben Dias is vital to this current Portuguese crop’s prospects of matching the achievements of their predecessors.

"If a potent strike force are to fire Portugal to Euro 2020 glory, then Bernardo is likely to play a huge role in supplying the ammunition."

It was Bernardo Silva’s fellow countryman and captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, who famously declared that ‘talent is nothing without hard work.’

Our midfield schemer is the epitome of this phrase, combining a supreme technical quality with a relentless work ethic.

This desire for the collective over the individual is one of Bernardo’s key assets, and brings his intelligence and versatility to the fore.

Capable of operating on either flank or in a central role, the 26-year-old also possesses the creative spark necessary to turn a game on its head.

That final third quality, which often represents the divide between a good and a great player, is something that Bernardo has in spades.

If a potent strike force are to fire Portugal to Euro 2020 glory, then our midfielder is likely to play a huge role in supplying the ammunition.

Nonetheless, he also demonstrates his value to the team when out of possession.

A willing runner, Bernardo works tirelessly to draw out defenders and create dangerous areas for teammates to exploit.

If any game were to demonstrate this quality, then it would be City’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in January 2019, often considered the crucial victory in securing Pep Guardiola’s second Premier League title.

Not only did the Portuguese midfielder lay on the assist for Sergio Aguero’s opener, he also ran an astonishing 13.7 kilometres across the 95 minutes, an average of 144 metres every 60 seconds.

Regardless of the occasion or opponent, Silva’s supreme technical quality is always complemented by a genuine never-say-die attitude and work ethic.