World Cup 2018: Portugal's changing of the guard begins this summer

World Cup 2018: Portugal's changing of the guard begins this summer

This summer could see young Portuguese stars lift the heavy burden that Cristiano Ronaldo has carried for years.

HarryHarris8
Harry Harris

Cristiano Ronaldo's legacy cannot be debated as he has cemented himself as one of the best players to ever grace the game. The Portuguese star has achieved it all in football, besides the biggest prize of them all, and this summer may be his last chance at World Cup glory. This year's month-long festival of football stares the 33-year old in the face, perhaps taunting him that this could be his last shot.

Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal at the age of 18 and has since helped his country reach two European Championship finals in 2004 and 2016, with Portugal winning the latter tournament. Over the last 14 years, Ronaldo has become his nation's all time top goalscorer and has been able to confirm his place amongst the sport's all time greats.

Despite a storied career, Ronaldo's previous two World Cups have been filled with disappointment and frustration. In 2010, Ronaldo managed just one goal before Portugal bowed out of the tournament at the Round of 16 stage. Four years later, an injury-riddled build up to the tournament saw Portugal struggle mightily and fail to qualify from their group, with Ronaldo managing one goal. 

After their Euro 2016 victory, Portugal head into the World Cup with the aim of adding yet another international trophy to their collection and for Ronaldo, this summer may see some of the heavy lifting taken off his shoulders. 

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A new wave

Portugal's young stars are emerging quickly and the now 33-year old Ronaldo is surrounded with young, exciting talents heading into football's biggest tournament. Fernando Santos' squad has the perfect blend of experience and young potential, which makes Portugal a dangerous group to come up against.

Goncalo Guedes, the 21-year old PSG winger who spent last season on loan at Valencia, has emerged as one of Portugal's better attacking threats in recent years and could enjoy his breakout onto the world scene this summer. Guedes' time at PSG saw limited game time, but since moving to Spain, the winger has enjoyed a resurgence and now has the opportunity to take his game to the next level. 

Bernardo Silva burst onto the scene with Monaco in 2016 before he earned a huge move to Manchester City, where he helped the English side set numerous records in their Premier League title win. Silva's quick feet and impressive creativity have earned him worldwide praise and attention, setting the stage for the 23-year old to take the world by storm. 

Gelson Martins, whose future is currently in limbo with Sporting Clube de Portugal, and Adrien Silva are both young stars that can ease the pressure that has been placed on Cristiano Ronaldo this summer. The Real Madrid superstar is the face of Portuguese football and has been carrying that title since the age of 18. While the torch most certainly isn't being passed to the next "superstar", he is now surrounded by young players who are eager to prove a point on the world stage. 

For Ronaldo, who will be 37 at the 2022 World Cup, this may be the last time we see one of football's greatest ever players at the top of his game on the world stage. For the likes of Silva, Guedes, etc., this is an opportunity to show the world that once Ronaldo's international career comes to an end, Portugal's future is in good hands. 

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