Bruno Fernandes is an important Portuguese player at the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar — A year and a half is a long time in football, but especially for Bruno Fernandes and his Portugal career.

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In June 2021, Manchester United The midfielder was dropped by coach Fernando Santos in the last 16 European Championship match Belgium, did not play well during the group stage. Portugal lost 0-1 and were eliminated.

Fast forward to World Cup and Santos are once again preparing their team for a knockout match at a major tournament, against Switzerland at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday. But this time the participation of Fernandes is not in dispute. He scored two goals and provided two assists in the group stage and was rested in the final game against south Korea to save him for the more difficult tests to come.

Santos is often accused of not being able to help Portugal get an impressive record, but at least in Qatar, Fernandes is trying his best. A team stacked with talents like cristiano ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo enters the knockout stage as something of a mystery — clever one minute, sloppy the next. They will need Fernandes to stay in shape to have a chance of making it through to the round of 16 at a World Cup for the first time since reaching the semi-finals in 2006.

Fernandes was heavily criticized at the Euros, with Jose Mourinho’s comments after the previous 4-2 loss Germany in the group stage where Fernandes “was on the field but didn’t play.” There are questions at United too – despite scoring 53 goals in 146 games since arriving from CP Sports in January 2020 in a deal worth up to 80 million euros – much of it focused on his passing propensity.

In the Champions League match against Istanbul Basaksehir in November 2020, statistics show he let the ball down 34 times as United lost 1-2. Weeks later, he let the ball out 17 times – the most of any player on the pitch – in a Premier League game against Wolves, but this time it was his pass that sealed the victory in the minute. 90 for Marcus Rashford.

Then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer later admitted that Fernandes sometimes made him want to “pull his hair out” but insisted that, to reach his full potential, you had to accept the good with the bad.

“He’s definitely a player that affects results,” said Solskjaer. “He creates chances, scores goals and takes risks, which any Manchester United player should be allowed to do and be brave enough to do. He’s certainly a brave boy. He sees the pass. You can’t take that away from Bruno.” “

United had initially considered signing Fernandes in the summer of 2019 but decided that Sporting’s price tag was too high for a player to concede a lot, even for a sought-after attacking player. demand to accept the risk.

Solskjaer and current United manager Erik ten Hag have worked to improve his decision-making but speaking in the summer, the 28-year-old insisted he would not change his course completely. his play.

“I keep the ball when I think I have to keep it, I try to pass when I think I have to and sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes wrong,” he said. “Obviously when it goes wrong, I know it shouldn’t happen, but sometimes when you’re playing as a No. 10 you just have a few seconds to think, control the ball and make the pass, so that’s not much. time to think.”

Usually given a central role at United, but in Portugal at the World Cup, he was used on the right wing in a three-man formation but was allowed to drift inside. Like Solskjaer, Santos is asking Fernandes to influence the outcome. When Portugal wobbled with the score 1-1 first gana in their opening game, it was Fernandes who assisted two goals in two minutes: first a delicious pass for Felix, then another for Raphael Leao. Against Uruguayhe scored the first with a sublime pass into the box that Ronaldo failed to make and then scored a penalty after he himself won it with a dash into the box.

Only England and Spain scored six more than Portugal in the group stage, and Fernandes was directly involved in four of them. Ronaldo, even at the age of 37, is still the leader of the Portuguese team but if they want to become the real challengers in Qatar, they will have to depend on players like Fernandes quietly traveling on business.

This World Cup is seen as the end of an era in Portugal with Ronaldo competing in his fifth and final tournament and Santos’ tenure as manager may be coming to an end. after eight years. Facing Switzerland in the second round on Tuesday and possibly Spain in the quarterfinals, no one knows what will happen. So far, the only constant has been Fernandes’ form. If Ronaldo and Santos are about to peak, they will need that to keep going.


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