4 reasons to get excited about Renato Sanches


    Portugal are through to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 after a penalty shootout victory over Poland, but the continent can be forgiven for wondering how Fernando Santos’s side have quite managed it.

    They finished third after scraping three draws in what looked like a relatively straightforward group before the tournament, then eked past Croatia in the last 16 before this low-key win in the quarter-finals. Maybe those Greek ghosts are just saying sorry for 2004.

    But if Cristiano Ronaldo managed to play like the kid who he swaps his talent within that Nike advert, there was at least one star on show for Portuguese fans to get excited about. Step forward, Renato Sanches.

    The teenager will be a Bayern Munich player next season after a highly impressive breakthrough year with Benfica – and on this evidence, Carlo Ancelotti might be inclined to consider him a big part of his first-team plans for the German giants’ title defence next term. Here’s why…

    1. His passing was impeccable

    Sanches started in a central role for Portugal, where he caused all kinds of problems for Poland between the lines. He stood out in what was a fairly quiet start to the game, demonstrating the kind of confidence England fans had been screaming out for Raheem Sterling to show throughout the tournament.

    Sanches finished the game with 60 of his 64 passes completed, and 34 of 35 in the final third – the best figures of anyone on the pitch. They’re truly excellent for one so young – the Seleção’s youngest-ever player at a major tournament, no less –and indicative of a player showing maturity beyond his years.

    2. The boy can dribble

    The 18-year-old’s burgeoning reputation from last season came in part thanks to his exciting bursts from deep in midfield, and against Poland he demonstrated plenty of them. His goal itself (above) came after he’d glided past one man and played a neat one-two with Nani, before profiting from a deflection to beat Lukasz Fabianski.

    But Sanches earned it: he’d shown the daring to get into that position in the first place, and it wasn’t the first time either. Throughout the first half he drifted wide to beat opponents in an attempt to create angles for chances, until he was moved wide left later in the second half. From then on he was barely able to influence proceedings, and Portugal lost their driving force through the middle.

    He might look like a mini Edgar Davids in appearance and running style, but he’s more like Eden Hazard when he’s on the ball.

    3. He grafts for his team

    Only Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski recovered possession more times (13) than Sanches (12), who was a bundle of energy throughout this game. He also chipped in with three interceptions – the same as Polish holder Grzegorz Krychowiak, for example – and matched his opponent’s two tackles too. Considering how far foward he played for most of this game, that’s admirable.

    4. He loves having the ball

    Portugal’s youth teams have thrived in recent years, producing a strong batch of technically proficient young players. Sanches has clearly profited from this, having been with Benfica since the age of nine and first played for the national team at under-15 level.

    In this game, the 18-year-old was his side’s go-to man: his 68 received passes was the highest of his fellow midfielders, including Adrien Silva, Joao Mario (both 42) and even William Carvalho (58). Portugal’s top three passing combinations were either from Sanches, or to him. His team-mates know he’s that good.