With the World Cup just a mere matter of months away there is naturally a lot of chatter amongst fans around which players will make the final squads. The same is probably true of the coaching staff as they keep a close eye on the form and fitness of their players.
We obviously have a keen eye on Portugal set up but, more specifically the Algarve. As such, here we look at three Algarve-born players that could be heading to Qatar.
We kick off our look at the three Algarve born players that could make the World Cup with a look at Portugal’s second most capped player in Joao Moutinho. Being 36-years-old and having 145 caps to his name, Moutinho’s experience obviously speaks for itself with the Wolves midfielders having appeared at several major tournaments over the years. Will it be enough to see him make the plane though?
Rewind to June and Moutinho was donning the captain’s armband on his sleeve – and collecting a yellow card - as Portugal earned a 1-1 draw with neighbours Spain in the Nations League. Moutinho played 45 minutes in that match being subbed at half-time, a few days later he was an unused substitute and then, on June 9th, he entered the action for the final two minutes as Portugal beat the Czech Republic. It was his last appearance.
Injuries have played their part in Moutinho’s journey since then and kept him out of Wolves’ opening couple of Premier League games. He’s since returned to fitness though and has played each of the last six games in all competitions – including completing 90 minutes in each of the last five. Despite that, he’s been left out of Fernando Santos’ latest squad leaving his place in the squad for Qatar wide open.
We’ve look at an elder statesman in Moutinho and now turn our attention to a potential wildcard pick for Santos in the shape of 21-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos of Benfica. The Olhao born centre forward is yet to win a cap for the senior side but has lit things up on the under 21 side with 14 goals in just 18 games; to spin that another way, he has a strike rate of a goal every 63 minutes.
Of course, doing the business at youth level is no guarantee of stepping up but his form for Benfica certainly won’t be doing his chances of a call up any harm. Last season he played 46 games scoring eight goals at a rate of one every 306 minutes. The current campaign is only 12 games old – including Champions League qualifiers – and he’s already sat on eight goals netting at a rate of a goal every 103 minutes.
Like Moutinho, Ramos hasn’t been called up for the current international break, which seemingly makes it unlikely he’ll get his chance at Qatar. That said, should Santos’ World Cup plans be derailed with an injury, which is far from an impossibility, then there is every chance that Ramos is the next man in line and what a secret weapon he could be – both for Portugal and the World Cup betting lines.
The last of the three Algarve born players we want to discuss is Vitinha and, unlike the first two we’ve mentioned, he is set to meet up with the Portugal squad during this current break. Vitinha has already made his Portugal bow having earned his first cap by replacing the aforementioned Moutinho for the final seconds of the World Cup playoff win over Macedonia.
Another substitute appearance followed in June and a first start in national team colours arrived a couple of days later – on June 12th – as he played an hour of the Nations League loss to Switzerland. It was the start of a whirlwind period for the Porto youth product as just a couple of weeks later he was waving goodbye to his childhood club to join French giants PSG in a $40m deal.
Despite his relatively tender years – he’s 22 – and the star studded squad that is assembled at the Parc des Princes, Vitinha has proved to be quite the hit early on. The Ligue 1 season is eight games old with PSG currently sitting top and unbeaten with 22 points taken from a possible 24 and the Portuguese has featured in seven averaging 66 minutes per appearance.
It’s not just domestically where Vitinha is impressing though. Head Coach Christophe Galtier clearly trusts his summer recruit in big games because he’s started both of PSG’s Champions League games. Providing he stays injury free, it would seem that he is nailed on to be on the plane heading to Qatar in November.
The final verdict
With three Algarve born players now discussed, we have to make a judgement on how many of the three actually go to the World Cup. Vitinha is going – that’s one.
Ramos probably needs an injury to give him a chance – we’re saying he’ll miss out. That leaves Moutinho – the heart says yes, the head says no.